Sweets Wrapped in Oak Leaves

Edited on January 31, 2022.

Kashiwa mochi, sweets wrapped in oak leaves for children’s day. Photo by H. McGaughey

Yokohama, Japan Today, May 5 or 5/5, is Children’s Day, one of the string of national holidays this week. These holidays are collectively known as Golden Week, which doesn’t mean much to me, because my academic work doesn’t end, but it’s really nice to see people enjoying themselves at the neighborhood park or among the crowds in Shibuya, where I ran errands yesterday.

I didn’t realize until I looked it up just now that today is called Children’s Day and is supposed to be for both genders as of 1948. I thought that strange, because I somehow thought it was Boys’ Day, considering the images of Kintaro (the golden boy) and kabuto (samurai helmets) that contrast with the dolls of Girl’s Day, celebrated on March 3 or 3/3. Politicians can change the name, but they can’t change traditional festivals, I guess. It’s just unfortunate that in effect, “children” means boys today. I’m all for the boys having a festival, but call it what it is!

In any case, these last few weeks, the traditional sweet shops are all selling kashiwa mochi, mochi (rice pounded into a dough-like texture) filled with an (sweet red beans) or sweet Kyoto miso and wrapped in oak leaves. To eat them, you peel the tough oak leaves from the mochi, but sometimes bits stick to the mochi that end up in your mouth. The leaves have a unique aroma not unlike the pickled cherry leaves sakura moch, but I can’t seem to be able to figure out right now if the oak leaves for kashiwa mochi are pickled or not. . . anybody know?

Growing up, I never thought oak leaves were edible, although the home I grew up in was surrounded by huge oak trees that the arborist said were roughly 200 years old! To put that into perspective, that makes them older than the United States. Our house sat in their shade, which means we didn’t require any air conditioning in the summer.

As kids, my younger sister, our friends, and I once collected acorns, shelled them, and in the process smashed the nutmeat inside. So, we picked out the shells and pounded the edible part into a flour with an old hammer, but the result didn’t taste all that great. We never thought to try the leaves. Haha!

But I do miss those oak trees. The windows of my room at the front of the house looked out towards the largest of our oak trees, and I would often leave one open at night to hear the wind blow through the leaves as I fell asleep.

2 replies on “Sweets Wrapped in Oak Leaves”

I agree that the boys day and girls day celebrations should be kept separate. It seems important to keep them properly named and celebrated.

Dear Gene,

The one problem I can think of, and it’s a big problem that I am familiar with thanks to my time at Smith, is that the stark line between the genders can cause identity issues for some children, at the very least for intersex children. Perhaps the question is, how can tradition be adapted to accommodate everyone?


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