People

Mitsuhiro Kurokawa× Chisako Takashima

GINZA CONNECTIVE VOL.72

Mitsuhiro Kurokawa× Chisako Takashima

2017.11.01

An interview series featuring Ginza people in conversation with violinist Chisako Takashima. With a special fondness for Ginza, which holds many memories both from her professional and private lives, Takashima explores Ginza from various dimensions with her guests.In this volume, she welcomes Mr. Mitsuhiro Kurokawa, the 17th storeowner and President & CEO of Toraya, a Japanese confectionery store established in the late Muromachi period.

The five-century history of Toraya, Japan’s prestigious long-established confectionery store

Takashima
Toraya is said to have been established in the Muromachi (1338-1573) period. Have you always been a wagashi (Japanese confectionery) store?
Kurokawa
Yes, we have. We are not sure of the exact year of establishment, but we started our business in Kyoto in the 16th century and we have made wagashi since then.
Takashima
That means you have been in business for almost…
Kurokawa
Almost 500 years.
Takashima
That is amazing! When did you come to Tokyo?
Kurokawa
When the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in Meiji 2 (1869), we established a new store in Tokyo as a Royal Warrant holder, keeping our store in Kyoto. In Meiji 12 (1879), we opened the store in Akasaka. Our store in Ginza was only opened after World War II.
Takashima
What is Toraya’s oldest wagashi to your knowledge?
Kurokawa
The oldest order received from the Imperial family on record (according to a copy of order) dates back to 1635. By 1695, a catalogue of our line of confectioneries had been produced. According to records, the “Tokonatsu,” the confectionery made from kudzu (arrowroot starch) that you are eating now, was made as a higashi (dry confectionery) in 1711.
Takashima
Really!? I understand that you need sugar to make wagashi, and I would presume that it was a luxury back in those times.
Kurokawa
Yes. Sugar is said to have been brought to Japan from China by Ganjin–wajo during the Nara (710-794) period, when it was very valuable and used for medical purposes rather than as a sweetener. A more common sweetener was the five-leaf ginseng, which also appears in Makura-no-soshi by Seisho Nagon. However, since all sweeteners were rare at the time, this wagashi may not have been made as sweet as it is today, even if it was shaped the same.
赤坂店 大正14年正月店頭風景

Akasaka store on New Year’s Day in Taisho 14 (1924)

The charm of wagashi lies in its representation of changing seasons

Takashima
Could you please define wagashi?
Kurokawa
My definition of wagashi is confectionery made from plant-based ingredients. For example, this confectionery is made from kudzu (arrowroot starch) and azuki red beans. Although some baked confectioneries use eggs, wagashi basically does not include animal ingredients.
Takashima
I see! That is indeed true. Are there any other characteristics that are unique to wagashi?
Kurokawa
Another important feature of wagashi is that it depicts each season. At this time of year (early July at time of interview), kudzu (arrowroot starch) gives confectioneries a refreshing appearance and texture. The name “Tokonatsu (perpetual summer)” also matches the season.
Takashima
Come to think of it, the names of many wagashi sound like they were derived from literature.
Kurokawa
My wish is for wagashi to be enjoyed using all five senses – the sense of taste, sight, smell, touch, and also hearing. In that aspect, the name of wagashi is an important factor. The impression of a name can change the impression of the taste. This sensation was also shared by our ancestors, who named confectioneries after lines from Genji Monogatari (The Story of Genji) and Kokin Wakashu. A lot of thought was put into the name of wagashi.
Takashima
Have you encountered any inspiring names recently?
Kurokawa
Yes, the “Yururuka.” This old Japanese word appears in Genji Monogatari and means “gentle” or “calm.” The “Yururuka” is a “yokan,” or a bar of gelled sweet bean paste made chiefly of azuki beans, sugar, and agar-agar, arranged to feature a texture soft enough for elderly people who have difficulty chewing and swallowing food to enjoy. It was named with the hope that people would embrace a rich relaxed time eating this confectionery.
ゆるるか

”Yururuka”

All List

ギンザのサヱグサ/Hatsuko銀座 らん月/
(株)天賞堂/銀座千疋屋/三笠会館本店/
三井住友銀行 銀座支店/西銀座駐車場/GINZA
みずほ銀行 銀座通支店/マロニエゲート銀座

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