O-hagi are steamed glutinous rice cakes generally coated with azuki bean paste. The name "o-hagi" comes from the habi (bush clover) flower that blooms in the fall-the cakes' coating is dotted with azuki beans and somewhat resembles the flowers. The cakes have another name as well: "botamochi", from botan (the Japanese tree peony flowers which bloom in the spring and also look something like the cakes), and mochi (glutinous rice cakes). Each o-hagi has a plump, oval shape about the size of a child's fist.
The bean paste can be replaced with kinako (sweetened soybean flour) or black sesame. The photo on the previous page shows the three variations: rice cakes covered with dark purple azuki bean paste (foreground), yellow kinako, and black sesame. The coatings all hide the pure-white glutinous rice inside.
Kajiyama Koji teaches at Ecole de Patisserie de Tokio. He says, "In the old days, o-hagi were a delicacy for the common folk. Tradition has it that the recipe was first developed by farmers who wanted to make something tasty out of broken grains of rice. They would carry the o-hagi to work in the fields every day, and munch on them as a snack."
Over time, o-hagi became associated with the higan Buddhist services held around the time of the spring and fall equinoxes. Higan rites, unique to Japan, are performed in memory of family members who have passed on to "the other shore." Higan is customarily a time to eat o-hagi, pay respect to the dead, visit their graves and offer them the same snack.
Years ago, o-hagi
were generally made by hand in the home, but it is now more common to buy them in a local store selling Japanese-style confectioneries. They are quite popular, and you'll often see them displayed in stores. Demand is greatest during the periods around the spring and fall equinoxes. At these times even a small cake shop sells thousands of o-hagi
in a single day.