TOKYO >> Around the world, chocolatiers are fascinating chocolate lovers by adding Japanese designs or flavors to their products. Some chocolates feature ukiyo-e images or recreate the shape of origami cranes. Yet others feature a variety of flavors such as shiso leaves. These items reflect their creators’ efforts to convey Japanese beauty.
An increasing number of chocolates with Japanese twists have been hitting store shelves over the past three or four years, according to chocolate journalist Ayumi Ichikawa.
“With the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics approaching, there’s a movement in Japan to look at our own culture anew,” she said.
Some of Ichikawa’s favorites are sold at Lien 1928, a patisserie at Hotel Gajoen Tokyo in Meguro Ward, Tokyo. The hotel is known for exhibiting about 700 Japanese-style paintings, including ceiling art. Inspired by these works, chief pastry chef Takeya Shono created a set of five pieces of chocolate featuring some of the hotel’s ceiling paintings, priced at 2,400 yen (about $22).
The chocolates are made by placing three-color transfer sheets on a surface of bite-sized square bonbon chocolates to reproduce the original pictures depicting motifs such as cherry blossoms, a peacock and a woman in kimono.
Each of the five has a different flavor — the shiso chocolate is especially unique. The herb is simmered in fresh cream and pureed before being mixed in the chocolate. The sumptuous piece of chocolate looks and tastes elegant, with the shiso’s refreshing aroma intensifying with every bite.
The shop also sells pieces that look like craftwork, such as origami cranes and temari balls.
Hotel Gajoen Tokyo also sells a product called tamatebako, or a casket of sweets, in two boxes made of chocolate for 20,000 yen (about $182). Shono was inspired by the history of the hotel, which is highly regarded for its luxurious exterior and furnishings. In the Showa era (1926-1989), the hotel was referred to as Ryugu castle, a folkloric palace in the sea where a fisherman was given a tamatebako box as thanks for saving a turtle’s life.
Gajoen’s tamatebako includes macaroons decorated with Japanese patterns in an upper box, while a lower box contains baked sweets.