(You can click on any of these images to learn more about the photographer and to navigate to their Flickr page. Please do, these people have amazing photo-streams! Note about photography at bottom of post.)
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is a very special experience, usually performed inside a small room or building specifically designed for this custom. During the ceremony, in the dim light and natural materials of the interior, the world is distilled to the gentle rustle of silk kimonos, the brush of a foot across tatami, and quiet minds and bodies in seiza. Before tea is made, the host gives his guests a lacquer tray, chosen for its beauty, with carefully arranged Japanese tea confections or Wagashi. Each guest places one confection on their tea sweet napkin and, when all have received theirs, the sweet is observed, its beauty considered and appreciated, and then it is eaten with great relish. The silence is a soft companion as guests contemplate the graceful movements of the Tea Master who begins to whip matcha into a vibrant green foam.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is designed to remove the participant from the brash, mundane world and immerse one into a quiet, natural, and harmonious experience of the only thing that really exists, this moment, right now.
Wagashi are not ONE thing, this is a term for a whole class of confections. Many are made from mochi (pounded rice paste), sweet red bean paste (as from Adzuki beans), and fruits or fruit materials. These confections are not usually terribly sweet as they are always made with the Tea in mind and sugary sweet wagashi would destroy the flavor of the matcha. Seasonality is of prime importance when a wagashi design is considered with mostly natural objects being depicted, such as fruits, flowers, tree buds, and other forms.
This is not meant to be a full discussion or description of the tea ceremony or wagashi, simply an introduction.
My favorite Japanese Tea House - Kaji Aso Studio Tea House
About the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Holy Mountain Trading Company
Omotesenke Japan (in Japanese)
Urasenke San Fransisco
Where to buy Wagashi
Where to buy Matcha
Where to buy chawan (tea bowls) and other supplies
Yahoo Wakeiseijaku Tea Group (excellent group, very scholarly)
I wish to thank all of the generous contributor photographers who have given me permission to share their images of wagashi here on this blog.