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Higashiya

On the second floor of the Pola Cosmetics building in Ginza is the newly opened branch of Higashiya, the high-design, high-concept maker of modern wagashi (Japanese sweets). I adored the cozy Nakameguro branch that sadly closed its doors last May, and was happy to visit its recent incarnation during my last visit to Tokyo.

Higashiya produces artisinal wagashi in a unique small size (about half the size of regular wagashi) that can (almost) be eaten in one bite. In fact, their delicate, diminutive size recalls artisanal chocolate, and their concept runs parallel to chocolate shops in London and Belgium; a modern interpretation of traditional old-world culture.

Higashiya means “Eastern house” (or shop), and the interior successfully represents all that the name suggests. As the elevator doors open, you face a Japanese traditional seasonal display (during my visit, floating cranes made of gold and silver thread) that gives a preview of what is to come. For Higashiya does modern Japanese design in a way like no other.

Inside, the shop widens into a light-filled, minimal space in varying shades of white. On a long counter, the seasonal selection of wagashi are displayed like artwork, each lit perfectly and presented on its own wooden base. During my visit in May, the selection included year-round classics such as mame daifuku, and seasonal varieties such as red shiso (perilla).

The diminutive size of the wagashi, as well as their delicate color and translucent quality, appear jewel-like, and other offerings, such as paper-thin sweet potato slices, are just as sculptural and striking. The packaging is also beautiful, minimal and makes use of natural materials such as paper, wood and straw.

In the center of the expansive space is a small one: a tea house of beautiful proportions, covered entirely in pristine white washi paper. The doors, walls and ceiling are papered in the tea ceremony style, on both sides, and during the day the space fills with soft light, making it feel like a tearoom in heaven.

Further back, the space is more mainstream, with small tables to enjoy one of the many varieties of tea with wagashi. And during lunchtime, a delicious traditional Japanese lunch is available for only 1,800 yen. On our visit, this included a round ceramic bento box filled with various okazu; nikujaga (beef and potatoes), tofu salad with hijiki & wakame, grilled sawara; rice, soup and tsukemono (traditional pickles). My husband had the second choice: maze gohan with chicken and bamboo shoots, which came with a delightful hinoki box filled with a different array of okazu. Also available is a selection of traditional Japanese dessets, such as tokoroten and anmitsu. As with the Nakameguro branch, I concluded that it was a place where both my mother – AND my graphic designer sister – would have felt right at home.

Higashiya is a special place, and if you would like to have lunch there, reservations are recommended. English is not spoken, so you might want to go with a Japanese friend. For a unique gift, you can hardly do better, but unfortunately, the nama wagashi cannot travel far, as they must be consumed the same day. If you are determined to bring something home, try some of the other snacks and cookies, which have a shelf life of a week or more, such as macaroons and higashi; thin slices of dried crunchy vegetables and fruit.

higashiya
Above: Even the packaging at Higashiya is modern, yet traditionally Japanese.

Pol builing, Ginza. (c) 2010 Kirk Vuillemot

Above: The Pola building in Ginza. Higashiya is located on the second floor. Below: The light-filled, minimal interior.
The interior of Higashiya in Ginza. Copyright 2010 Kirk Vuillemot
Shiso wagashi at Higashiya, (c) 2010 Hotaru Images Mame daifuku at Higashiya, (c) 2010 Hotaru Images
Red Shiso is featured in May Mame Daifuku is available all year
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