Born into a wagashi-making family, and, in 1977, created Ikouan. Currently, as a wagashi artisan, Chikara Mizukami participates in many activities throughout the world. He actively collaborates with many international chocolate companies and patisserie maisons such as Valrhona, Sadaharu Aoki, and Jean-Charles Rochoux. He provides demonstrations at Relais Desserts and wagashi related lectures at art museums in the world. He was also nominated as 1 of 5 Japanese chefs out of 400 best chefs in the world selected by Where Chef’s Eat, a guide to chef’s favorite restaurants.
Philosophy of making wagashi
“The positions that wagashi (Japanese confectionary) and Western confectionary hold are very different,” said Chikara Mizukami. To understand what he means by that, one must first understand Wagashi. “While Western confectionary is itself the main item in a dessert, wagashi on the other hand, plays a minor role in supporting Japanese tea. In other words, wagashi's sole purpose is to enhance the taste and enjoyment of Japanese tea.”
“Tea is the main star while the confectionary plays the supporting role.” This is the aesthetics of wagashi, a philosophy in which Chikara Mizukami believes. The spirit behind confectionery’s supporting role in tea tasting is similar to that of a samurai supporting his master. Furthermore, the use of tea (or tea leaves) in making wagashi is heresy. In Bushido, there is a saying that “one cannot be loyal to two masters.” If wagashi contains tea ingredients, there would be two main characters: the tea itself, and the tea-flavored confectionery.
Changing with the Seasons
In the confectionary making process, Chikara Mizukami pays attention to the changes in seasons.
Japan has historically counted 72 different seasons, as opposed to the familiar four seasons, and he expresses these seasons through his wagashi. In the Western pastry world, seasons are expressed by using seasonal ingredients such as specific fruits, whereas in the world of Japanese wagashi, the form of the pastry transform into various shapes which represent the seasons, such as flowers or birds. Top patissiers and chocolatiers have commented on Chikara Mizukami's magical ability to freely make differently shaped wagashi.
Mizukami uses the essence of Japanese traditions and culture and translates them into his own art piece. One of his sources of inspiration is the waka (Japanese historical poem), which were written in the 6th and 7th centuries.
For example, when he was asked to make sweets for Valentine's Day, he didn't simply turn the wagashi piece into a heart shape. Instead, he took a poem from "Hyakunin Isshu" (a classical Japanese anthology of one hundred Japanese waka by one hundred poets) that indirectly expresses the feeling of love, which read “君がため 春の野に出てて 若菜つむ 我が衣手に 雪は降りつつ” ("I went out to the field and picked up young greens for you, and the snow was falling on my sleeves.”), and visually realized it as a wagashi looking like green petals with white powdered snow.
His inspirations are not limited to traditional Japanese culture; he also expands his creativity by taking in elements from fine art and even architectural works. In the past, he has made wagashi inspired by European Impressionist artists such as Monet, and Japanese artists such as Leonard Fujita and Yumeji Takehisa. He finds inspiration regardless of time period, and figures out the best way to present the selected themes and hazy emotions through his wagashi.
The “wa” in wagashi (which literally translates to "Japanese") has only been used to draw distinction between Japanese food culture and the western food culture that was imported into Japan during the Meiji Era. In contrast "yō" (which refers to anything European or western), the word “wa” traditionally refers only to Japan, but Chikara Mizukami also utilizes the other meanings of “wa,” such as "peace" or "harmony,"
Furthermore, while the direct translation of confectionery artisan would be "patissier," Chikara Mizukami believes that “artisan” better describes what he does.
The spirit of an artisan is similar to that of a craftsman or artist. Wagashi is something that is produced rapidly, and consumed by the end of the day. In other words, because wagashi is not something that would remain for generations, it is not usually seen under the same light as a product of a craftsman or artist. “At the end of the day, we are not a culture ourselves; rather, we support culture from the background. All we want to do is to make the world understand the deliciousness of wagashi and anko (red bean paste),” Mizukami said in his humble manner.
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