Gate-side sweets stuffed with tradition
Text: Mie Sakamoto / Photo: Kaina Honma
Would you be surprise to see a daibutsu in Kyoto? Houkouji Temple had once placed a 19 meter tall daibutsu statue in dedication of Hideyoshi Toyotomi's (1537-98, one of Japan's Three Unifiers) parents death. It is said to have been bigger than the daibutsu of Nara and was a great landmark of Kyoto. Besides the huge daibutsu, Houkouji had a vast premise including today's Sanjusangendo, Chishakuin, and Kyoto National Museum. The statue of daibutsu had gone through numbers of reconstruction after earthquakes and fire, but after the great fire in 1973, it became a legendary statue.
Today, only the 4 meter bansho-bell (made in 1614) still exist in Houkouji. This bell leaves a famous episode with the phrases written on it; State's peace, and State's Peace and Health. These phrases surrounded by white line used kanji character of Ieyasu Toyotomi and had been considered impious because it damaged his name. Being angry, Ieyasu is said to have destructed Toyotomi.
The stone wall of Toyokuni Jinja, next to Houkouji, is said said to have come from stone walls of Houkouji. You can see how powerful Hideyoshi was by the size of the stone.
Toyokuni Jinja is famous as a shrine of success and luck. Many of Toyotomi's mementos are exhibited here. The photo is 'bakumakura' (tapir pillow). Hideyoshi is said to have been using Tapir-shaped pillow since this animal was believed to eat dreams. Sennarihyotan shaped ema (wooden plaque) is hanged at the Karamon gate.
By the way, Kyoto became popular tourism spot in Edo period when commoner's life became safe and many cultures developed. Many visitors went around the city and speciality products started to be sold at the entrance of each spots. Houkouji had Daibutsu mochi. Much space was used to introduce this mochi (rice cake) in the guide books during this time. This nation-wide well known mochi had become very popular, but the famous shop had closed down after world war.
Kanshundo, a confectionary shop, had saved daibutsu mochi from disappearing. Minoru Kinoshita says that his grandfather had taken over the mochi recipe since they were neighbours with same business.
'I make it all handmade with traditional style. It is important to check the texture by my own hand'.
Kanshundo has a history since 1865. Besides selling sweets, they have cafe and confectionery classes.
Freshly steamed sticky rice into stone mill to take the heat away.
His hands are red with heat when adding water as the steamed rice is being pounded. 'It needs to be pounded when they are still hot to keep it tasty. The amount of water and pounding differs according to weather so I must be careful' explains Minoru. Sugar is added to soften the texture, and it is important to get rid of unneeded moisture to bring it to shine.
Minoru explains as he covers the sweet beans paste with mochi, 'it is a family business, so I had been helping out since junior high school during busy seasons. I started really learning confectionary since high school. I never thought of taking over this shop, but I guess this was my fate.'
The mochi is put on an iron pan called 'ichimonji' to grill one side, then a stamp '京大佛' is pressed to finish up.
'I would like to satisfy local customers as well as tourists' Minoru says.
Daibutsu mochi is 120 yen/piece, 600 yen/5 piece (excluding tax). Drawing on the package paper from classic guide book Miyako Meisho Zue.
The shop located near Toyokuni Jinja and Houkouji is the East branch, the main branch is located near Kamogawa.
ADDRESS: 511-1 Yamato Ooji-dori Shomen-kudaru Chaya-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
CLOSED: NA (open throughout the year)