Ichimonjiya Wasuke in Kyoto, Japan, is a historic family business with ancient ties. It's not just any old candy store in this magnificent historical Japanese city; it is a significant, long-established piece of Kyoto history spanning 25 generations - not only in terms of cuisine but in spirituality and religion.
Also known as "Ichiwa" - the affectionate name given by loving local Kyoto-dwellers - this old confectioner has been serving mouth-watering traditional Japanese sweets for over a thousand years; according to owners and historians, the original founder started his business in the year 1001 by serving roasted rice cakes, known in the Japanese language as "aburi mochi", to people and priests attending the nearby Imamiya Shrine.
Thought to promote healing and recovery from disease, with many even believing they help to ward off disaster, these tiny Japanese treats have been a celebrated delight amongst locals throughout history - even among visitors of the nearby local shrine, who have seemingly adopted the confectioner and its sweet delicacies as part of their religious routine. As an unofficial part of the ritual, worshippers often pray for good health and fortune at the shrine, followed by tucking into Ichiwa's candied aburi mochi rice cakes.
And this practice isn't new; during past historic times of famine and plague suffered at various points over the last thousand years, it has always been believed that offering these tasty treats on bamboo skewers to the gods would deliver good fortune and even protection from sickness, which has seen these beliefs turned into a secondary ritual that many Shinto followers in this part of town would adhere to as homage to the gods.
What Is Aburi Mochi?
At Ichiwa, the aburi mochi is the very same aburi mochi that's been filling tummies in Kyoto ever since they opened up shop in the year 1001. This sweetened delicacy is the only item on the menu, and that's all the place needs and has all it's ever needed as evidenced by its millennium of solidified success.
Almost unchanged since the shop's early days, the recipe of the renowned rice cakes is simple but effective. For an even more fascinating sprinkling of tradition, they are in fact made by the matriarch of the twenty-fifth generation of the original founder’s descendants - a longstanding, ever-lasting line of rice cake-makers who have prepared and produced the much-loved sweets for a thousand years.
These particular abura mochi are made traditionally by taking sticky and course pounded glutinous rice seasoned with "kinako" - a kind of ground soybean flour - shaping them and putting them on bamboo skewers. Each skewer is then lightly baked over a hot charcoal fire, and for the very final touch, they are dressed with a sweet sauce of white or light brown miso. Not overpoweringly sweet, the delicious miso sauce provokes the appetite, whilst the warm, toasty aroma teases the senses in the tempting moments before taking a bite.
The eating part of one's visit to Ichiwa is only half of the experience; the other is the old-world architecture and décor of the beautiful building alongside its charming interiors and exteriors. With history flowing through its foundations and walls, Ichiwa’s current building is a collection of several wooden houses - the latest dating back to the Taisho era at the turn of the twentieth century, whilst on the other hand, the oldest goes as far back as the late seventeenth century.
Head inside, and one can admire an old well that predates the age of the samurai - all the way back to the Middle Ages. In previous times, water used to be drawn from the well, which was used to make the shop's abura mochi rice cakes, but that's no longer the case today due to sanitary reasons. Still, despite it not being in use in the modern-day, the well serves as a nostalgic reminder of times of the past, its presence evoking a unique feeling of historic charm.
After having marveled at the store, its architecture, and ancient features, it's time to get on with the real reason for one's visit; to fill the stomach with Ichiwa's small sweet goods. Customers who wish to dine at the premises instead of taking away the abura mochi delight have two options; they can enjoy sweets both indoors and outdoors, either from the internal couches and tatami seating or on those outside the shop.
Whichever visitors choose, they'll relish the experience - not only for the delicious flavor and consistency of the sweet rice cakes that have been chowed down on at Ichiwa's for more than a thousand years - but for the opportunity to experience something that is somewhat spiritual in nature, something that a millennium of Japanese people have been enjoying in the same way since 1001.
What To Know Before Visiting Ichimonjiya Wasuke
Visiting Ichiwa is a must for any curious traveler heading to Kyoto, and is an important spot for learning about the city's Shinto history and tradition - not to mention being one of the city's original establishments offering the same thousand-year-old delicacy and customer experience to its descending diners.
Hungry patrons should note that the joint is open from 10 am until 5 pm every day, except for Wednesdays when it is closed. As for the candy glutinous grub, a single order of aburi mochi will see customers served with 13 skewers of the bite-sized rice cake all for a modest 500 yen price tag - an affordable, culturally important snack even for budget travelers.
Furthermore, one might also notice that Ichiwa has a long-term rival just across the street - a shop named Kazariya that has also been serving citizens of Kyoto delicious abura mochi for over 400 years (not quite the thousand that Ichiwa boasts, but still an impressive timescale nonetheless).
Perhaps guests with growling stomachs can enjoy a portion of sweet skewered rice cakes from both stores to compare each's recipe - after all, the 600 years' difference in culinary experience and customer service between the two is sure to showcase some variation, even if only minute.