During the first three decades of the twentieth century, distinct confectionary identities emerged in relation to Western and Japanese-style sweets. First, at the level of production, wagashi was ‘made’ while yogashi was ‘manufactured’. Wagashi making was characterized by a reliance on manual labour conducted in small-scale operations, creating individualized sweets for limited markets. In contrast, yogashi manufacturing was distinguished by its machines operating in large factories, producing similar sweets en masse. Second, at the level of sales, wagashi was ‘sold’ while yogashi was ‘marketed’. Characterized by an attachment to direct modes of selling, wagashi sellers targeted local markets and remained more or less wedded to clientele built up over generations. In contrast, yogashi companies marketed their products with a broader and national market in mind, embracing newspaper adverts through which an image of sweets could be generated. Third, at the level of practice, wagashi was ‘eaten’ while yogashi was ‘consumed’. Eating wagashi, especially among children and women, was frowned upon. It was seen as unhealthy, and practices associated with it were criticized as irrational and even dangerous. There was very little foresight, little concern about the broader impact of eating sweets in terms of the snacker’s longer term individual welfare. Consuming yogashi was, however, seen to be a more advanced and useful act, helping to improve health and contributing to the wealth of the nation.

In 1914, Shibusawa Eiichi (1840-1931), the eminent industrialist, penned an article in the (confectionary) trade journal, the Wayogashi Shimbun.104 Looking back on the progress confectioners had made, he applauded the developments in technology and research that had contributed to elevating the sector into an ‘industry’. Within the pages of the same journal, Okuma Shigenobu (1838-1922), shortly before his return as Prime Minister, also offered his political blessings.105 Compared to 20 years ago, he reflected, the varieties on offer had increased exponentially so that the sector was now poised to take on the world. Neither of them [1] [2]

explicitly mentioned which type of confectionary they had in mind, but it was obvious where their allegiance lay. Just when yogashi was taking off, the Asahi Shimbun wrote about the need for ‘confectionary for the Great Powers’ (taikokuteki no kashi).106 By this, the newspaper meant that sweets should seek to expand sales overseas. Pointing to the need to combat foreign imports, it encouraged the export of factory-made sweets to places like Hong Kong and Shanghai, and had nothing but praise for Morinaga’s intentions to reach beyond Japan. For the Asahi Shimbun, wagashi was almost an embarrassment. Ensconced in ‘incomplete methods of manufacturing’ and trapped in ‘narrow fields of operation’, the daily saw little promise in wagashis future. Compared to yogashi manufacturers, wagashi makers did not even meet the criteria ofa ‘serious business' and their goods could not be regarded as ‘products’.107 In short, yogashi was modern, advanced, sophisticated and sublime; wagashi was traditional, primitive, vulgar and abject. And it was clear to modernizers which direction the confectionary sector should take.

Despite the national pride expressed in Japanese food today - its benefits for health, aesthetic beauty, attention to detail and seasonality - the example of sweets reminds us how only a hundred years ago, in which industrial catch-up with the West was prioritized, almost the opposite emotion was generated. It was argued that Japanese-style sweets were detrimental to health, placed too much emphasis on appearance rather than the ingredients and were unnecessarily about satisfying local or regional demand that shifted and changed throughout the year. As a result, wagashi was increasingly turned into the ‘Other’ while yogashi became the ‘Self5. To be sure, the contrasting identities are not meant to imply any truth or support for either wagashi or yogashi. There was also some mixing of styles, and more research into the phenomenon of hybridized confectionary, which attempted to incorporate both ‘Western' and ‘Japanese' aspects, would no doubt show more overlap. Furthermore, the public discourses that informed these identities, it should be borne in mind, emanated mainly from supporters of yogashi, whose loud voices should [3] [4]

not be taken to indicate that, in terms of popularity, yogashi was favoured. During the period under review, the proportion of yogashi, while increasing, was constantly inferior to that of wagashi. In 1938, the share ofyogashi in the overall confectionary market stood at 34.4 per cent in contrast to that of wagashi which stood firm at 65.6 per cent.[5] Nor did Western- style confectioners have much success overturning consumer habits. As late as 1933, the Hochi Shimbun indicated that buying Japanese confectionary was relatively easy because it involved an outing to a familiar locale; but shopping for Western confectionary was a lot more complicated because ‘it must be produced in large factories. That is why one has to carefully examine both the trust and quality before choosing superior products’.[6] To appreciate the impact of the process set in motion by the Paris Exposition, it would be necessary to extend the period of investigation to the 1960s when yogashi becomes dominant.

  • [1] Wayogashi Shimbun, February 15, 1914, 2.
  • [2] Wayogashi Shimbun, March 15, 1914, 2.
  • [3] Anonymous, ‘Kashi no hanashi (1)’, 6.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Mitsuda, ‘From reception to acceptance’, 176.
  • [6] Hdchi Shimbun, November 20, 1933, 6.
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