Facts about Omogashi
Omogashi, “main sweet,” are made for serving before koicha. They are served after the kaiseki meal and before (or when it is very hot in the summer, during) the nakadachi break, before the second half of the chaji.
Omogashi for koicha are properly served in lacquer fuchidaka, trays “with high sides” which evolved in Daitokuji. Usually now consisting of 5 layers and one lid, there are several konomi available, starting with Rikyu-gata shin-nuri, as well as ceramic and even glass fuchidaka. For serving a kininーnoble, a single, 4-footed, new, wooden (kiji) fuchidaka is used.
The most formal style is to serve omogashi in individual lidded lacquer bowls called kashi-wan. Usually sweets served this way are heated and the bowl keeps them hot.
The next level of formality down is the meimei-zara, individual ceramic saucers or lacquer plates. Both kashiwan and meimei-zara are usually served with one sweet and one kuromoji each. [Sometimes a salty condiment is served with it to balance flavors, but this is a later elaboration.]
Then come fuchidaka, Rikyu’s attempt to simplify, and “wabi-fy” ceremonial eating habits.
Shokyaku has one sweet, takes from bottom to show humility; other guests’ sweets, one per layer (or more in the top layer[s] if there are many guests and only one fuchidaka), are set on top. Lid on top, with dampened kuromoji wood picks, one per guest, set at lower R angle on top of lid. Angle makes for easy pick-up. In furo season, lacquer lids are sprinkled with “dew” tsuyu-uchi to give a cool, refreshing feeling.
It is sometimes felt insufficient to serve just usucha and higashi so at present day chakai, omogashi are often served along with or instead of higashi. In this case, omogashi, three to seven in number, are served in larger bowls, called kashibachi with kuromoji chopsticks. This practice, along with the idea of large, open tea gatherings originated in the Meiji period with the industrialist sukisha.
In okeiko, omogashi are also often served in a bowl for usucha but this practice will lead to confusion among students as to what is proper. One almost never serves omogashi at a chaji in kashibachi.
In asacha, if it is likely to get too warm in the seki and to cut back some sitting time, the thoughtful host will put the kuromoji on the kaiseki tray itself to indicate that the sweets will be served elsewhere, eg. the koshikake or somewhere outside. The guests must know this and take their kuromoji out with them. In this case also, a kashibachi is not used as it and the fuchidaka would be very difficult, even dangerous to use. Instead, a basket or perhaps a large shell or something interesting, unbreakable and unspillable could be usedÅF a bucket or basket of ice, leaves, etc
Not formally part of Kaiseki but Rikyu served something that was sometimes sweetÅF kuri, okoshi, kaki and dried persimmon, yuba, fu, sweet-stewed shellfish Modern omogashi grew up laterÅF Meiji-Showa, when sugar became available. Seasonal feeling especially conveyed through color scheme rather than an identifiable shape Omogashi are not supposed to be too “flavorful” so as not to interfere with koicha
- tsukune imo
- azuki bean an
- kuzu (kudzu root starch)
- kanten (sea veg= agar-agar)
- mochi rice and its products
- Types A. Namagashi
- Kinton, chakin shibori- infinite variety
- Mochigashi (sometimes made with uiro, habutaimochi)
- Kagami M, Hishihanabira M, Noshi M, kusa M, chimaki, kokoromi M tsukimi M, Minoko M, hishi M, tsubaki M, daifuku M, sakura M, kashiwa M, botan M, warabi M, kuridaifuku, uguisu
- joyo manju, inaka man, soba man, kuzu man, kuri man, saka man
- mushi yokan, mizu yokan
- Saogashi- not used much for chanoyu (save denmono)
- yokanÅF mizuyokan; takenagashi
- Yakigashi- not used much for chanoyu
- ayuyaki a, Matsukaze (a parting, sad feeling)
Shin, Gyo, So
joyo manju- an wrapped in imo-based dough and steamed- should be served hot
- kinton- all year depending on color(s); gomei; can be a bit heavy in heat
- chakin shibori- ” “
- kanten- summer; not really lighter but looks cooler
- kuzu – ” ” ; early autumn-kuzuyaki
- uiro-gluey; sometimes saomono
- mochi-autumn; all seasons; tough
- nerikiri; konashi- an steamed with flour to make a plastic cover for an; can be molded, carved, pressed, folded, etc. like playdough, must be fresh
- gyuhi- very soft mochi; used for most high class mochi sweets- hishi hanabira; kobai, etc.
- karukan- steamed “Angel food”; sometimes used with yokan half/half; slice in center, /azuki= fuji flower
- mizuyokan- summer, so soft it is often made in a tube
- saomono- bars such as yokan not usually used for a chaji because they are not made individually for each guest. Can be too sweet, sticky, heavy.
- Another sao is suhama, powdered soybean held together with sweetener On some occasions though it is permissible, even required (okuden) to use a saomono.
At the end of the kaiseki meal for Chanoyu, the Host will continue with an offering of sweets. These sweets are not considered part of the kaiseki, but fall into another realm of specialists. Likewise there are specialized utensils for serving them.
The history of sweets goes back to fruit, which even lends its Chinese character to the word- kashi 菓子. Although there is mention of pounded rice sanwiched between camillia leaves mentioned in the Tale of Genji, and even older Chinese deep-fried dough sweets still prepared for offering at temples and shrines in Nara and Kyoto, “sweets” for Tea in Rikyu’s time (16th C.) were simpler things like roasted chestnuts, toasted beans and rice, dried persimmons, cooked octopus(!?), or shiitake mushrooms, with a still mysterious creation called “funoyaki” which may have been somethig like a crepe. Sugar as we know it today was not available in Japan except in tiny quantities for medical purposes only, until the late Edo-Meiji period, although there were native sweeteners such as mizuame, malted barley syrup. It was the cooking styles which caused a chemical change which was interppreted as being “sweet” by the tongue.
Wa-gashi, the Japanese confections created nowadays for Tea are divided into two main types, one called omogashi or “main sweet” served after the kaiseki to give a sweet taste in preparation for the thick tea, and higashi, dry sweets eaten just before the thin tea, later in the gathering. This essay will deal exclusively with the utensils used to serve omogashi.
Probably the oldest type of utensil still used to serve sweets is the footed stand called a takatsuki. They are usually round or square lacquered plates, on a tall turned wood, footed shaft, lacquered red or black, sometimes with sprinkled gold maki-e designs. They came from the Tang court in the Nara period and were used originally in Chinese-style Court banquet settings. From there they were used to make offerings in shrines and temples but are now mostly used in the konarai temae keiko to serve sweets to aristocrats or to fit in with a theme featuring them, such as the Doll Festival in March or the Star Festival in July.
Fuchidaka, literally “tall edged” trays, are closely associated with Zen temples, from whence Rikyu took notice of them and incorporated them into his Tea. They were and still are used to serve both sweets and food in the form of a tenshin or light meal. For the case of food they are large, often of a light amber lacquer and sometimes individually lidded (Daitokuji fuchidaka) .
All fuchidaka for Tea are square with “cut corners,” a set of five layers with one lid. The sides are one piece of wood with grooves across it allowing the strip to be bent at angles and fastened at the “back” with an overlap sewn together with bark. The whole thing is usually lacquered, mirror-polished black shin nuri for Rikyu’s design but there are a large number of variations in colors, lacquer treatments, even plain wood and glass, etc. . Since there are usually five or fewer guests at a chaji, each guest would get one sweet in one layer plus a single roku-sun (c. 7 in.) long pick of fresh spicewood, kuromoji, each. The picks, also known as kuromoji, are dampened to show they are “fresh wood” and arranged on top of the lid.
Originally, each guest would be served individually but Rikyu, in an effort to both save time for the busy people to whom he often served tea and to increase an awareness of “equality” among the guests in the tearoom, took to stacking things or placing all the food of one course on one platter that all shared. With fuchidaka as well as the sake cups, the first guest takes theirs from the bottom, rather than the top. (This is different for different lineages, though). That all guests drink from one bowl of thick tea is another example of this idea.
Fuchidaka are also related to a set of stacked boxes called a “jubako,” or “hikiju”, a stacked box “pulled out” for guests. These jubako are now an essential part of New Year’s celebrations, being filled with all kinds of foods prepared at the end of the year to allow the women of the house to enjoy the first days of the holidays without having to cook so much. Jubako are quite large compared to fuchidaka, with usually four layers and a lid. They are usually square, of black lacquer with red interior and may be decorated with family crest, a continuous design in maki-e or line carving filled with gold. Smaller ones may be round and of porcelain decorated in cobalt. These are not appropriate for Tea.
It is still possible to serve an individul guest or two, guests who may have trouble handling chopsticks with a kashibashi or guests for whom you wish to avoid anything complicated, not to mention sweets too soft to pick up easily, by using what are called meimeizara, individual plates. Similar in size to small salad plates, they should be three times the width of the sweet. They come in a wide variety of ceramic, wood, metal or lacquer finishes, since they are used in everyday hospitality as well. They may be a single color or seasonally decorated, but the more extravagantly decorated ones are best avoided in Tea. Omogashi are always served with a dampened 6-sun kuromoji.
Another type of early food container converted for sweets is the jikiro or covered bowl. Originally made in basketry or lacquered wood, ceramic ones now hold an honored place, especially for warm sweets , in the lineages of Omote-senke and Mushanokoji-senke all year round.