Confectionery Creation Has Fruit-Lovers Doubting Their Eyes

Lifestyle Food and Drink Guide to Japan

The internet is buzzing about a range of special mikan citrus fruits sold by wagashi confectioner Sannō Hiroyuki. The reason? They’re desserts made entirely from sweet bean paste!

Super-Realistic Confectionery

Wagashi is the name for traditional Japanese confectionery. Many people enjoy the delicate sweetness of wagashi sweets such as manjū, monaka, yōkan, and nerikiri (a workable paste made from white beans, yams, and rice). Recently, a wagashi creation that looks exactly like a fruit caused quite a stir. Here it is:

The tweet reads: “Warning: This is wagashi! Made from nerikiri and containing red bean paste, this is an edible wagashi from its peelable rind to its fruit segments within. These will be available for purchase from my stall on January 1 and 8. (The mikan on the right in the middle photo is real.)

This wagashi, the work of Gifu-based freelance confectioner Sannō Hiroyuki, looks exactly like a slightly peeled mikan. The skin, the segments inside, and even the white strands of the pith have been faithfully reproduced. These sweets are so realistic that you could be forgiven for thinking they were real fruit.

The fruit on the left is actually wagashi; the one on the right is real.
The fruit on the left is actually wagashi; the one on the right is real.

Sannō’s tweet had been liked over 10,000 times within days of its Novembr 30 posting. Replies included, “It’s a work of art and yet I want to eat it!” “If I didn’t know better, I would completely assume it was real.” and “Amazing!”

We talked to the confectioner and asked him why he decided to attempt a nerikiri mikan.

Getting the Pith and Skin Just Right

Sannō explains that mikan-making is actually an established wagashi technique, although traditionally the creations are not that realistic. He said that he began a process of trial and error, feeling that he could create a more realistic mikan. Sannō tells us that his confectionery mikan have a red bean jam filling and that all the rest is made from nerikiri. When we asked him what his secret was, he said that he focused on making the white lines between the skin and the fruit inside as realistic as possible, as well as on keeping the skin thin. It takes considerable skill to wrap the core in confectionery this thin.

Sannō’s Signature Piece: Yoihanabi

Sannō achieved the color through careful use of food coloring. To create the structure of the “skin” and the fruit sections inside, he first wrapped a ball of red bean jam in orange-colored nerikiri to make the “fruit,” next using a triangular piece of wood to form the segments. He then wrapped his creation in yellow and white nerikiri.

Sannō told us that while he has never counted the number of types of confectionery he has produced to date, there must be over 400. His trademark work, and his most popular, is Yoihanabi, which is made of nerikiri and depicts a firework shaped like a large flower, “blooming” on a summer night. Yoihanabi is a beautiful piece known for the gradation of muted hues achieved by a technique known as tsutsumi-bokashi, in which colored confectionery is covered by a translucent layer.

Sannō Hiroyuki’s signature piece, Yoihanabi.
Sannō Hiroyuki’s signature piece, Yoihanabi.

What is Sannō doing to keep wagashi culture alive as a freelance confectioner? He says that the ability to work freely is an advantage, allowing him to take chances that other confectioners can’t. As is borne out by his social media posts, Sannō wants to use his talent for creating appealing confectionery to share something that appeals to the younger generation.

While these traditional winter citrus fruits were already a standard part of the traditional wagashi repertoire, reproducing the thinness of a mikan skin requires skill—you need imagination and dexterity to pull it off. Those who bite into one of Sannō’s creations believing it to be a real mandarin will be thrown into a state of sensory confusion. The wagashi mandarins sell for ¥500 each plus tax. For those who would like to try one, they will be on sale at Hoshigaoka Terrace in Nagoya, Aichi, on January 2 and 3 and every second Tuesday from February onward.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on December 3, 2019. Translated and edited by

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