Dango: 団子

Dango 団子 can actually be used to describe a few different things, though typically it means the 3-5 rice cakes on a stick (串 kushi =skewer). Sometimes the the rice cake is flavored, sometimes there is a topping on them. Here are a few you might encounter:

Hanami dango 花見団子: flower-viewing dango, pink/white/green. Probably the quintessential dango and what most foreigners think of when they think of dango. It is called hanami because it was traditionally made in the sakura flower viewing season, but these days it is common year-round. The dango itself is usually not flavored (just food coloring), but sometimes you might get a some sakura essence in the pink or matcha in the green depending on the maker.

Mitarashi dango みたらし団子: plain dango with sweet shoyu sauce on top.

Kinako dango きな粉団子: dango with kinako (roasted soy bean powder) on top.

Goma dango ごま団子: dango with ground black sesame on top.

Anko dango あんこ団子: dango with red paste on top (can be plain or flavored dango).

Age dango 揚げ団子: fried dango… what’s not to like? Be careful those, these are a bit heavy on your stomach, so you can only eat a few.

Bocchan dango 坊ちゃん団子: the flavors of this famous 3-colored dango in Matsuyama are red beans, egg, and matcha… I took a trip to Matsuyama this past year and enjoyed myself enormously, consuming many of these (one of the places I ate Bocchan dango was at the Dogo Onsen). A new dango, called Madonna dango マドンナ団子 has been created… the flavors are actually really western! It is strawberry, vanilla and cafe ole; very girlish and actually really good. I think most westerners would absolutely love this combination of flavors. I only brought back a few as souvenirs and did not actually try any Madonna dango while I was there, so when I realized how good they were I was disappointed I did not buy more!

Meatballs are often called niku dango 肉団子 (meat dango).

Basically, anything round served on a stick qualifies as dango.


花より団子 hana yori dango is a popular saying. It translates to “dango (rice cakes) over flowers,” which means to prefer the substantial to the esthetic. It is also the name of a popular manga 漫画 that is a pun on this saying: 花より男子 Hana yori dango. Normally it would be “danshi” but the last kanji can also be pronounced “ko” or “go.” So the title translates to boys over flowers.

I will update this post with some better pictures (hopefully soon).

Types of Wagashi: 和菓子

A short introduction to “wagashi,” meaning Japanese sweets. There are many types, so let me review a few of the common ones. This focuses on Japanese sweets not Okinawan sweets, though it is possible to find most of these in Okinawa. Many of these are the perfect accompaniments to tea, especially matcha 抹茶. I will try to make posts about each of these individually at some point, but for now here is a brief description of each.


Nama-gashi 生菓子: these are fresh, delicate sweets, only lasting 1-2 days. The fillings, shapes and designs vary by the seasons and regions. If you click on the link, you can find out a little bit more about them in my previous blog post, and some places to find them.

ice cream daifuku
My stuffing my face with ichigo daifuku

daifuku 大福soft mochi wrapped around sweet bean paste or other fillings, covered with a light dusting of starch to keep them from sticking together. A popular type of daifuku type is strawberry (ichigo 苺). You can even find ice cream filled daifuku in the freezer of most conbini.

dorayaki filled w/matcha cream
dorayaki (top), ohagi w/sesame (bottom)

dorayaki どら焼き: 2 light, sweet “pancakes” typically with red bean paste in between. Do not mix these up with hotcakes ホットケーキ which are western and serve with syrup.

ohagi おはぎ: cooked glutinous rice with red bean paste (or sometimes other toppings such as sesame or kinako) on the outside. Typically served during Autumn. The Spring version is called botamochi.


dango 団子or だんご: small pieces of steamed mochi dumplings, often served on a stick. Hanami dango 花見団子 is a very popular type, with color of pink, white, and green. Sometimes served with toppings such as mitarashi dango (sweet shoyu), goma (black sesame seed), anko (red bean paste), etc.


manjuu 饅頭 or まんじゅうsmall “buns” that are either steamed or baked, filled with sweet bean paste or other sweet filling. Manjuu encompasses many different types of buns, so you will see a lot of variation. The one above is a stuffed pastry manjuu from an onsen town.


taiyaki たい焼き: fish-shaped pancake-like pastry with filling, traditionally red bean, but many flavors can be found such as custard, kinako, chocolate, and more.


youkan 羊羹: sort of sweet, firm, jelly-like confection made from sugar and agar (kanten かんてん). Travels well, so it is often a popular omiyage.

monaka 最中 or もなか: a wafer shell filled with sweet bean paste; the shells can come in different shapes and sizes. A popular modern variation of monaka is filled with ice cream, easy to find at the conbini! (I do not seem to have a picture of this one! mmm maybe that means it is time for a snack…)

sakura mochi among the sakura blooms.

sakura mochi (Kansai-style) 桜餅: mochi rice dyed pink and sweetened with red bean paste inside, wrapped with a sakura (cherry blossom) leaf. It is traditionally eaten in spring during sakura season and Girls’ Day (March 3rd). You can eat the leaf or not eat the leaf; from I have heard there is no actual rule regarding this, though the leaf is edible– don’t let anyone tell you are doing it wrong!

warabi mochi

warabi mochi わらび餅: jelly-like, similar to mochi, but made from warabi (bracken) starch. It is a little chewy and soft. It is usually covered in kinako or matcha powder.


higashi 干菓子: known as “dry sweets,” or sweets with little to no moisture content. Sometimes this is a glutinous rice flour, sugar and starch mixture or a wasanbon sugar pressed in molds to form dry sweets. Rakugan 落雁, used during ceremonies and obon, also fall under this category.

Other special types:

Mizu manjuu 水まんじゅう: “water” manjuu made with kuzu, popular in summer!

Hanabiramochi: specialty namagashi named flower petal mochi, often served during the first tea ceremony of the New year.

Akafuku Mochi: 赤福餅: a type of namagashi from Ise.

A few of the wagashi I came across in Kanazawa (there are so many more, but these are the ones I managed to capture pictures of before nomming):