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Rakugan, a Traditional Japanese Sweet Offered at Senjuji Temple's Buddhist: Video Introduction

This video, titled "[4K Video] Rakugan – A Japanese Sweet Offered at Senjuji Temple: Tsu, Mie|nippon.com" (【4K動画】専修寺(せんじゅじ)の法会に供される落雁:三重県津市一身田町| nippon.com), was uploaded by "nippon.com." In this 4K video, you can see the traditional Japanese sweet rakugan, made by Okadaya and offered at Senjuji Temple, as if you were actually seeing it with your own eyes.
  [Video] 0:28 - Rakugan
  [Video] 1:50 - A Buddhist Service at Senjuji Temple

Senjuji Temple is the head temple of the Takata sect of Shinshu Buddhism, which has more than 600 temples throughout Japan. Located in Tsu, Mie, in Japan's Tokai region, the temple houses Nyoraido and Mieido, the first buildings in Mie Prefecture to be designated as national treasures, as well as many other national treasures related Buddhism and Important Cultural Properties designated by the government of Japan. Every year from January 9 to 16, Shinshu's largest Buddhist memorial service, Hoonko, is held here.
The signature traditional Japanese sweet offered at the altar of such an important Buddhist service at Senshuji Temple is rakugan. Okadaya is the sweets shop that supplies these rakugan to Senjuji Temple. Okadaya was founded in 1868 and is a long-established confectionary in Tsu, Mie, the same city as Senjuji Temple. Currently, in addition to Japanese sweets such as rakugan, sakura okoshi, and otafuku manju, Okadaya also sells fresh and colorful birthday cakes, wedding cakes, and cakes with illustrations, made with seasonal ingredients.

What Is Rakugan? Origin, Characteristics, and How It's Made

Image of rakugan
Photo:Rakugan

Rakugan is a traditional Japanese sweet commonly used in tea ceremony or as an offering. It's made by kneading grain-derived flour with sugar or syrup, pressing it into a mold, forming it, and drying it.
Rakugan is also a type of higashi.

Higashi refers to dried wagashi with less than 20% water content. Major types of higashi include rakugan, konpeito, senbei, and yatsuhashi. Wagashi can be classified into three categories: fresh confectioneries, semi-perishable confectioneries, and dried confectioneries. Rakugan, wasanbon, and yatsuhashi belong to the dried confectionery category.

Rakugan, which are very hard, are mostly made of sugar, meaning that the flavor of the ingredients can be enjoyed as is, and because they contain little water, they are resistant to mold and last a long time. Because of its unique hardness, it's easy to form patterns on the surface, and it's possible to make patterns in the shape of flowers, family crests, cranes and turtles, and other auspicious symbols, and it can also be colored in various colors with food coloring. These characteristics are what make rakugan suitable as an offering, and thus they are frequently used as such.

There are two popular theories about the origin of the name rakugan (落雁): the first is that the name comes from the Chinese sweet nanrakukan (軟落甘) and that the name changed over time, and the second is that it was named after Katata no Rakugan (堅田落雁, Wild Geese Returning Home at Katata) one of the Eight Views of Omi.
Rakugan are said to have originated when a disciple of the Buddha served rakugan to monks during the Bon Festival. The word "rakugan" (落雁) means "geese flying down from the sky," and is a well-known seasonal word used in Japanese poetry to represent autumn.

Rakugan, Wasanbon, and Hakusetsuko – Three Types of Japanese Sweets

Image of wasanbon
Photo:Wasanbon

Hakusetsuko and wasanbon are two other types of higashi and are difficult to distinguish from rakugan. Here, we'll explain the differences and uses of rakugan, hakusetsuko and wasanbon.
Both rakugan and hakusetsuko can be colored red and white and decorated with patterns, and are typical traditional Japanese sweets used as offerings for the Bon Festival. Rakugan are made from steamed and dried rice powder, while hakusetsuko are made from raw rice powder. Wasanbon is made by molding only wasanbon, a type of sugar, and therefore differs from rakugan and hakusetsu-kan in both ingredients and how it's made.

Wasanbon is a specialty of Kagawa and Tokushima prefectures, and is made by refining sugarcane juice. Today, it's considered a high-end sugar due to its scarcity and the decrease in the number of producers. It's mainly used as sugar for Japanese sweets, and is especially famous for its use in higashi sweets.

How to Store Rakugan and How Long It Can Be Kept

Image of Bon Festival offerings
Photo:Bon Festival offerings

The reason why rakugan is used as an offering is because its ability to last for a long time. So, by when should rakugan be eaten?

If stored properly, rakugan can be kept for more than a month and eaten without any problems. On the other hand, if they are not stored properly, their quality may deteriorate quickly. The key to preserving the quality of rakugan is to avoid humidity and sunlight. Because of its high sugar content, rakugan easily absorbs moisture, especially during Japan's rainy season, and when it absorbs moisture, it spoils much quicker. In addition, colored rakugan will lose their color when exposed to sunlight.

If they are to be served after being dedicated as an offering, it's important to pay attention to humidity, sunlight, and the time of year they are offered. To prevent spoiling from humidity, we recommend wrapping the rakugan in film. As tea sweets, rakugan can be stored in an airtight container without losing quality if kept out of direct sunlight.

How to Enjoy Rakugan and Recipes They Can Be Used In

Image of rakugan sugar
Photo:Rakugan sugar

The following is a list of delicious ways to eat rakugan as well as recipes they can be used in. Since the main ingredient of rakugan is sugar, it can be processed into a powder using a grater, food processor, or mill, and used as a substitute for sugar in a wide variety of applications. For example, we recommend using it in coffee, tea, or other beverages, or in yogurt or pancakes, as it's particularly easy to utilize. By using it in these ways, you can enjoy the taste of rakugan that have hardened over time, as opposed to eating them as they are.

Summary of Rakugan, a Traditional Japanese Sweet

In this article, we introduced rakugan, a higashi (dried confectionery) that's also offered at the Buddhist memorial service at Senjuji Temple. With a long history, rakugan has been loved throughout Japan to the extent that it has been selected as one of the three most famous confectioneries in the country. If you have the chance to try this traditional Japanese sweet, definitely give it a go!

Written By
Last Updated : Jan. 19, 2023
Japan
もりありさ(Arisa Mori)
Writer and blogger living in Germany. Former flight attendant who loves traveling and food.
Rakugan, a Japanese Sweet Offered at Senjuji Temple in Mie Prefecture. Learn How the Traditional Sweet Is Made, Its Origins, & More, in 4K Video!
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