The High Art of Nagano’s Yashouma Offering

May 26th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics

If you ask most Japanese people about yashouma you will probably receive a resounding “ehhh??” and quizzical look. The Shinshu specialty is not even unanimously known within Nagano, its home prefecture. However, the rice flour (komenko) treat is a fascinating imbalance between ornate, neon design and plain mochi (rice cake) flavor.

From Yashoumaizo “It’s so delicious!”…in a way

yashouma_packingOne story surrounding the name’s origin comes from yashoumaizo which means “it’s so delicious!” However, as yashouma is seemingly flavorless, it brings to light a scope of flavor which includes plain like a color scale that may include white. Also, flavor, particularly in traditional Japanese cuisine, is highly influenced by presentation, colors, and season, aspects of which yashouma excel. Traditionally, as an offering (osonae) to the Buddha Oshakasam, yashouma’s design, skillfully inlaid in the center of the hockey puck shaped mochi, has always taken precedent over the taste.

An offering to Oshakasama

yashouma_happyToday, in honor of Oshakasama’s annual return from the afterworld (ohigan), yashouma is made and eaten every year on March 15h, the day the Buddha Oshakasama died. In Oshakasama’s honor, Yashouma is most popular in February and March, but it is available all year long.
Sakakita village, North of Matsumoto City in Nagano prefecture, is famous locally for yashouma. Despite hours of watching Yashouma made in Sakakita, and even participating, my surprise never lessens each time the final picture is revealed. This could more likely reflect my intellect than the nature of yashouma- but regardless, for me yashouma borders on a mini culinary and artistic miracle.
I am also not the only one foreign to yashouma’s inner workings. Sakakita’s annual demonstration attracts paparazzi like attention from locals much more attuned to Japanese cuisne. At Sakakita’s weekend demo, cell phones and cameras snap photos of the different steps while pens and pencils fervently take notes amidst nods of discussion and comprehension over the hour long process necessary to make one roll.

The art and mystery of making Yashouma

yashouma_colorsYashouma could be considered a ceramic art just as much as a culinary trade because the intricate process required to construct the inlaid picture is comparable to clay work. The design is made by rolling snake like strands of mochi and stacking them to make a composite picture. The dough and taste of yashouma is not like the round white mochi balls common at New Years because it is based from flour (komenoko) instead of pure rice.
To make the mochi-like material, sugar, salt, and rice flour are mixed with boiling water and then steamed. After kneading the dough, coloring is added resulting in what looks like edible primary colored clay. The colored mochi are mixed and matched as desired to make the softer pinks of cherry blossoms or greens of leaves for the central picture which is usually a representation of spring.

Where to get Yashouma in Nagano?

yashouma_rollcutYashouma is a local specialty and can be difficult to find in restaurants or shops outside of Nagano prefecture. Within Nagano, Sakai and Chikuhoku (about 30 minutes North of Matsumoto city) sell locally made yashouma.
Chikuhoku Access (JR Stops: Nishijo, Sakakita, Hijirikogen; I.C. Exit: Omi)

Preparing after purchase

yashouma_heartsTo prepare yashouma after purchasing it just add a little bit of soy sauce and sugar after heating it up on the stove.

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