Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth in Japan with a Different Kind of Sweet
"It's Not Sweet" is a Compliment to Chef's in Japan
As a pancake boom sweeps the nation, waffle shops are everywhere and gooey goops of chocolate sauce are merrily mixed into multi-flavored ice cream at Coldstone, it might be hard for you to imagine the the not-so-sweet sweet in Japan is a popular and beloved thing.
If you take your friends or hosts a treat and on the first bite they look at you with a smile and declare "Its not very sweet", don't despair. It is actually a great thing and a heartfelt compliment.
Take a taste of a typical Japanese sweet called "Wagashi" and you will see what I mean. A good one to start on is a "Koshi-an" manju. "Koshi-an" is actually smooth red azuki bean paste and "tsubu-an" is more chunky bean paste (with a few bits of bean left in the paste). "Koshi-an" is smooth and very naturally sweet. It is kind of like the raw, sweet taste of sugar cane that we used to eat in Hawaii or maybe that sweetness of fresh coconut milk straight from the nut that you can get from street vendors in India.
The Wagashi sweets are a beautiful art form as well. Just like cakes and patisserie are an art in Europe, Wagashi is molded into lovely shapes and colors with just the perfect amount of sweetness to balance the fresh bitterness of green tea. Imagine what it would taste like to combine the sugary sweet of Wagashi with the buttery sweet of pancakes and you will understand why pancakes with red bean paste or green tea cream are all the rage.
While you are in Japan, please go to a Tora-ya store where you can get traditional Japanese wagashi, go by the Coconoma Restaurant in Roppongi (just up the street from Gonpachi on the left (inside the Hotel & Residence Roppongi) for green tea pancakes and stroll through any Department Store basement floor to find a myriad of Japanese treats/Western looking patisserie with a touch of Japanese reduced sweetness and over-the-top Belgian waffles that make Cinabon seem dry and mild.
Japan is a wonderful place for the sweet-toothed travelers, so lick your lips and get ready to enjoy. Oh, and by the way, keep the toothpaste and dental floss close :)