It’s easy to get caught up in routine, to lose sight of the specialness in the scenery around me. I live very close to Matsue Castle and the preserved scenery of the area. I’ve walked Shiomi Nawate, one of the top 100 historic streets of Japan, many hundreds of times, at many times of day, in any kind of weather we get here. Yet for all those times, I still had not visited Yakumo-an’s dessert cafe annex tucked alongside the Samurai Residence a rainy morning this past July.

Yakumo-an is a famous Izumo Soba restaurant (one of many) found along Matsue’s preserved Edo-period street (one of many places to get Izumo Soba around there), and every weekend you see tourists pouring in to enjoy the garden scenery, subdued and retro atmosphere of the wooden buildings displaying the signatures of the famous people who have dined there, and of course, the array of Izumo Soba options. I’ve written about this famous local dish (and how to eat it) before. On a three day weekend, you always need to expect a long wait to get in. While they do serve dessert there as well, the cafe annex is a few openings later along the Edo era blackened wood and white walls, facing the northern moat of the castle.

The entrance to Yakumo-an’s Izumo Soba restaurant

The more subdued entrance to the Yakumo-an dessert cafe

It was a routine Sunday morning, and walking back along Shiomi Nawate with rain both freshly fallen and threatening to fall again, the wetness highlighted the contrast between the abundance of green and the dark black of the bark of the pines along the moat, with droplets lingering on all the pine needles. To the other side, the black trim along the wall was stark against the white-painted walls, and I looked up as I walked instead of straight forward. Why had I never noticed how many different trees were reaching out above the wall? Were those unripe persimmons growing there? Ah, little snails tucked under the black tiles at the top. Oh, pomegranates!

The cafe, unlike its restaurant counterpart, was quiet with only soft jazz and a little rushed gossip between the lady on duty and another lady who had come in to drop something off. I took a seat by the window to look out at the Samurai House and the bamboo forest behind it and watch the umbrella-bearing couples of various ages walk through and observe a taste of a middle ranking samurai’s lifestyle. That bamboo forest is one of my favorite spots to see lit up during Suitoro, the month-long lantern festival every October, but right now there are some orange flowers that have caught my attention against the deep summer greens.

Although the whole menu looks tasty, I decide to go with the signature item, the Fumai-ko (one guess who that is–only my personal favorite local historical figure.) I got it for the matcha jelly, but there was much more than that: ice cream, a fluffy mousse-like matcha concoction above the gelatanious portion, tsubu-an (sweetened and semi-crushed red azuki beans), some soft and tiny mochi (rice cakes), and a sweet source I could not place the flavor of. Thinking back, it may have been made with condensed milk like is sometimes poured on top of Japanese style kakigori (shaved ice).

I will be the first to admit that I’ll take a Western style dessert before a Japanese style dessert most of the time, especially given that I had a strong aversion to azuki for a long time. I didn’t even enjoy fresh and artistic wagashi the first time I had them five years before coming to Matsue. Life has gotten easier since learning to like it, and indeed, it’s gotten a lot better. How amazing is it that matcha and azuki go so well together? It’s hard to imagine a better harmony among the world of Japanese sweets, as if they are made for each other when sweetened a little.

The elements of these dessert harmonized such that every bit was best when at least one element was in combination with at least one other element. I like to have a bit of at least every part of a dish seperately to appreciate each flavor, but this was the kind of dish that was best in combination–any combination. The hardest part was savoring enough of each flavor so that I wasn’t left with too much of a single item for the last bite!

Like many cafes serving traditional Japanese desserts, it comes with a little cup of hot tea to wash it down, usually a bancha. This is picked at a later flush than other Japanese sencha so it is less astringent and more grassy and smooth. Although considered of lower and cheaper quality, this is a nice tea for everyday use, and it doesn’t conflict with sweet flavors. I always like observing the tea cups it is served in.

Maneki-neko (beckoning cats)

Very enthusiastic maneki-neko

I left not-over-hungry, not-over-full, chilled out in both a physical and emotional sense, and aware anew of the treasure trove of a street I live so close to.