“Yokan is my treasure. I am very happy that I can be in this Yokan business. It is very important that I pass it down to my own children, it’s like a tradition,” Mr Yasuhiro Muraoka replied without any hesitation when I asked if there was something else he would have preferred doing if given a second chance.
Interestingly, the 69-year-old had no interest in Yokan when young. Now the President and CEO of the leading confectionery brand in Japan, the gentleman is personally involved in the planting and manufacturing of Yokan, writes numerous books and gives countless lectures on Yokan. Currently, he holds a PhD in Yokan Studies.
Muraoka shares that the popularity of the delicacy is gradually declining. He asks if I was aware of this sweet treat beforehand and goes on to share how the Japanese population no longer stays with their elders, who would be the ones consuming Yokan. This lessens the chances of the young coming across and being aware of the dessert in the first place.
“Family networks are being lost, and that is connected to people not eating this kind of traditional food now. That’s why I’m trying to make some efforts to rebuild the hype and value of family, and try to tell people how important it is,” Muraoka sadly explains through a translator.
In a bid to promote the dessert to the younger generation, Muraoka shares that he’s trying to find suitable combinations of bitter drinks to go with the dessert. Take for instance the Yokan exhibition in Milano, where he actually invited professional coffee makers along. The Italians felt mocha coffee was a good match with Yokan – it eventually became his favourite way of consuming Yokan.
As Muraoka personally invites me out to the exhibition hall to try the different Yokan, I grab the opportunity to ask him for a photo together. It’s not every day that you get to meet the top authority for Yokan in Japan. This is when he proudly brings me to pose beside two of the exhibits. I later learn that the exhibits were provided by the man himself, in hopes to help people understand the Yokan delicacy better.
Afterwards, I am then invited back into the room for some authentic Japanese ocha, to wash away the sweet taste of the Yokan samples. There, Muraoka opens up once again, as he proudly shares with me on how his wife and son are both helping him out in the company as well.
For those aspiring to join or currently in the Yokan industry, Muraoka advises, “Please make very tasty Yokan. That’s it.” It’s actually not easy to make tasty Yokan, the elderly gent explains. But, when it’s well-made, it’s a slice of heaven.
The Yokan Collection will be presented on 28 to 29 October, at Gallery10 in the National Museum of Singapore.