Oyatsu – Traditional Japanese Afternoon Tea

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Probably, when you are invited to eat Japanese food, your imagination is already related to sushi, sashimi or some other savory specialty. But what many people don't know is that the Japanese also have an afternoon tea schedule, called Oyatsu. Gradually, the practice is arriving in the West.

Also known as Oyasudoki or Osanji, it is a light meal whose purpose is to make people able to wait for the next main meal. Even today, some people eat between breakfast and lunch, and between lunch and dinner; but for most Japanese, oyatsu is performed mainly in the afternoon, between four and fifteen o'clock.

Oyatsu - Traditional Japanese Afternoon Tea


There are some disagreements as to the correct date of the emergence of this custom in Japan, but all documents point to the Edo period, in the 17th century, when the school system was installed, whose activities ended around 2:30 pm. So, when the children left school and came home complaining of hunger, the family would already provide some light snack so that they could wait until dinner time.

This small meal was named Oyatsu because, by the ancient Japanese clock, the period between two and three in the afternoon was called yatsu (eight), referring to the eighth hour of the day. Even with the change from the Edo period time count to the current count of 24 hours a day, the name oyatsu was kept to maintain the tradition.

This rite began to be followed even by adults, as they needed to replenish the energies spent during the working day. Traditionally, the afternoon snack consists of teas and a variety of sugary sweets. In times of food shortages, especially in the post-war period, this small meal underwent some changes and was basically made up of cooked vegetables or whatever was available at the time.

Discover 50 types of Japanese teas
Discover 50 Types of Japanese Teas

The custom around the globe

Of course, afternoon tea is not just a Japanese invention or tradition. In Sweden the afternoon snack is called Fika; in countries of Spanish origin, it is called Merienda; and the most famous of all, is the Chá das Cinco or Afternoon Tea, in England. 

The difference is that the basis of the Japanese tradition comes from the working class, which needed a lot of energy to carry out all the farming activities and other heavy work, while in other countries, it is a custom carried out mainly by the elite.

The Oyatsu Tradition Today

The traditional Japanese afternoon tea continues to this day. He is represented in movies, series, books and even in anime. It is the case of Ouran High School Host Club, which is a club of school boys who use their time to entertain the school girls during afternoon tea, whose activities start at 3 pm; it's the Kaichou wa maid Sama, where the student representative, considered brave and a perfectionist, works part-time dressed as 'maid' (maid) at a themed cafe.

Maid cafe - the maid cafe in japan
Maid Kissa

THE Tokyo city is now considered the leading oyatsu specialist. Walking around, you can find several bakeries or shops specializing in classic snacks. Many use traditional and centuries-old techniques to make the lightest and most beautiful sweets imaginable. In addition, another important information is that the Japanese use seasonal fruits and foods to diversify their food.

It is possible to see that afternoon tea was heavily influenced by the West. Nowadays, many Japanese have started to include several types of industrialized cakes and sweets at snack time. Sometimes for being more accessible, other times for saving time during the day. After all, oyatsu doesn't have to be expensive, the important thing is that the snack is a light meal and that it brings satisfaction to those who are eating.

In Brazil, it is possible to find some Japanese sweets in places that have a Japanese colony, such as in São Paulo, in the Liberdade neighborhood, and in other states, such as Pará, Porto Alegre and Rio Grande do Sul.

What characterizes the afternoon snack?

The name Oyatsu can refer both to the custom itself and to the sweets served at this meal. As the intention is to be a gentle food intervention between main meals, foods also have this format. 

Over time, Oyatsu became a little more sophisticated. In addition to tea, you can find refined sweets in many varieties, but their essence is delicacy. Here are some types of sweets that the Japanese appreciate in oyatsu:

– Hanabiramochi: traditionally served at the tea ceremony, in Japanese New Year, it means “flower petal mochi”. The candy has different shapes and colors and the traditional filling is mung bean paste.

Mochi - All About Japanese Rice Pudding

– Namagashi: sweets made with natural ingredients, usually in the shape of flowers or plants. Aesthetically pleasing, namagashis are filled with bean paste or jellies, jellies and others. 

– Botamochi: one of the darlings of the Japanese, it is a seasonal cake made from sweet rice and red bean paste.

– Kompeito: Small, colorful and round candy made with pure sugar. It has small cracks in its shape due to cooking. It is widely consumed in Japan, but arrived in the country through the Portuguese, in the 16th century.

Oyatsu - Traditional Japanese Afternoon Tea

– Monaka: made with a crispy wafer mochi dough filled with red bean paste jam.

Taiyaki: it is a cake that has the dough molded in the shape of a fish, usually the snapper. The fillings are the most diverse, and can be sweet or savory. The most common is the traditional red bean paste, but you can find cheese and jam fillings. The best thing is to eat it very hot, blowing the smoke. 

dango: Similar to mochi, kushi dango are Japanese dumplings served on skewers and with a caramelized topping. They have different flavors depending on the season.

Dango - Japanese sweet - curiosities and recipe
Dango at Afternoon Tea

manju: Tasty white cookies that are shaped like a full moon to honor the most beautiful moonlight you can see in Japan during autumn. It has a variety of fillings, from beans to jellies.

There is a huge variety of Japanese sweets and these were just a few examples. After all, oyatsu is a tradition that has lasted for centuries. If you also want to do this tea ritual at home, buy some sweets that you like the most, and take this time to relax and connect with yourself.

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