Let's go back in time to the late 1500s, when Japan's cultural and political center was in Kyoto. Ruling the country was Emperor Go-Yozei, and he appears to have spent ample free time enjoying the finer things in life, like okashi. Enter the Kyoto-based confectionary Toraya. After a sampling of its treats, the emperor grew very fond of the brand, and incorporated its products into the imperial family's diet. Of course, it must be nerve-racking to have the Godlike Head of State and his family scarfing down your sugary snacks. What happens if he gets indigestion? Or what about his kid's peanut allergy? But luckily, everything worked out very well for the shop. Since its initial entanglements with the imperial family, Toraya now boasts dozens of domestic locations as well as flagship shops in Paris and New York.
The entrance to Toraya's main storevia blogs.c.yimg.jp
Toraya is to okashi as Ferrari is to the automobile, or Louis Vuitton is to conspicuous handbags. In other words, it's the "bees knees." Gifting one of Toraya's little treats to a friend is like telling them "Oh yah? I've got money and I've got taste and you can just go ahead and put this in your mouth if you don't believe me!" Examining each of Toraya's creations, it's not difficult to see what's propelled this boutique sweet maker to its superstar status.
A Tour of Toraya's Treats
Preliminary notes: Catching the nuances of these sweets and their traditional applications will require lots of Japanese—so good luck with your lesson! Also of interest, almost all of these sweets are yokan (sweet bean jelly). Yokan is versatile and malleable, allowing it to be used like a canvas for maximum artistic effect.
Yoru no Ume (Evening Plum)
It's said that saogashi (round tubular) yokan (sweetened bean jelly) bring good luck. In fact, these sweets are used for holidays and ceremonies with the prayer "Hayaku ittai tachi suru you ni" (lit. in the hope that new crops and plants will grow upright). Perhaps a little esoteric for our stomachs, but Toraya's clientele apparently love it, as Yoru no Ume is a year-round staple on the menu.
Shiki no Fuji (Four Seasons of Fuji)
The Shiki no Fuji yokan depicts Mt. Fuji throughout the seasons. As the seasons change, the hues of the jelly change too. Given that such a staggering amount of work went into this jelly, it's hard to know whether this should be enjoyed in our mouths or in a display case. First launched in 1988, Shiki no Fuji is only available at the Gotenba shop in Tokyo.
The Gotemba shop in Tokyo
Aonoshirabe (Examining Blue)
The exterior packaging of this yokan is inspired by Dutch painter Jan van der Mees. The actual jelly is composed of pleasant blue and white hues, juxtaposed with a deep, dark crimson.
Designed by Minagawa Akira of the Mina Perhonen fashion label, these multi-colored treats reinvent the concept of the lollipop. Each colored sphere is completely unique from its neighbor. Even the shaved wood appears to have been individually cut.
Tsuki no Momo (Moon Peach)
Don't bother looking at the night sky, there's too much light pollution anyways. Now you can gaze at the moon in the comfort of your living room. Each piece of this jelly shows a different scene of the moon. If only each box didn't cost a whopping ￥15000.
Similar to their astronomically-themed cousins above (Tsuki no Mono), Shin Sarashina also depicts the moon, this time resting gently on top of mountains. Not just any range though, this scene is intended to take place in Sarashina, an area in mountainous Nagano prefecture.
Mizu no Yadori (Water Lodging)
This yokan bears a resemblance to Hokusai's The Great Wave (you know, the first image that comes to mind when someone says "Japan"). As a piece of art, Mizu no Shuku stands on its own. Perhaps the yokan will replace the woodblock print as the go to medium for traditional art. It's a shame to imagine people actually eat this!
In the Muromachi period, June 16th was a day when samurai and imperial court households ate mochi and okashi to pay off future misfortune. Following that history, Toraya created Kasho Kashi, a special limited collection of seven sweets intended to recreate this ritual. If you happen to be an exceptionally high class Japanese samurai, it'd be best to reserve a box before June comes!
Keep it classy by eating at Toraya Karyo
Toraya's products are not intended for casual snacking. This is serious, refined culinary art, and as such it is important to consider the entire aesthetic experience. Thankfully, Toraya takes that into consideration, by offering areas to sit down and properly enjoy each candy. How about a beautiful garden to accompany your snack? Toraya can take care of that. With several locations in Tokyo and Kyoto, the outdoor Toraya Karyo cafe has all the refinement to fulfill your high tastes.
A Creative Twist at Toraya Cafe
The Toraya Cafe in Roppongi Hills, Omotesandou Hills and Aoyama specializes in a variety of western-style candies prepared with red bean paste. Take, for example, this special limited collaboration with Kusama Yayoi. Anyone familiar with Kusama's work will not be the least surprised by the design.
World class artists, socialites, even the emperor: these are the individuals that Toraya builds its brand on. And while there is a degree of snobbery in a ￥10,000-plus box of candy, it's hard to argue with the quality of their craft. These are candies deserving of their status. Need to find a location? Check out Toraya's English site here: https://www.toraya-group.co.jp/english/index.html