Wagashi, the Japanese confections are related to the seasons as it reflects ingredients and/or motif of a particular season. To me, Natsukanto from the soon 110 year old confectionery, Oimatsu is a sign that summer is almost here. My parents in law live in Kyoto, and every year in June they send us a package with Natsukanto, and it is something that we look forward to every year!
Oimatsu was founded in 1908 in Kamishichiken of Kyoto which is famous as an ochaya district, where maiko and geiko(otherwise known as geisha) entertain customers through various traditional Japanese arts such as music, dance and games. They have played a vital role in the development of Kyo-gashi (Kyoto wagashi) by providing wagashi for royal rituals and tea ceremonies.
Among their wide variety of wagashi, Natsukanto which is available during April to mid July is a favorite of mine. It is a refreshing summery jelly dessert. The fact that the jelly is inside the Natsu-mikan, and can be served as it is something that my children enjoy. The Natsu-mikan is similar to grapefruit, but the taste is more bitter, and the jelly leaves a bitter aftertaste. It is well balanced though, and is not too sweet nor too bitter.
The Natsukanto uses a Japanese citrus called Natsu-mikan mainly from Hagi in Yamaguchi prefecture. Oimatsu first made the Natsukanto a few years after the war, when food was still scarce. They picked some Natsu-mikan from their garden, added a bit of sugar and kanten (aga-agar, a type of gelatin) to the juice from the Natsu-mikan, cooled it down so it became a jelly and served it to some guests. Since then, it has become a speciality of theirs. However, from the 1970s when the import of grapefruit began, and farmers changed their farms to grow Amanatsu instead of Natsumikan, an improved variety of Natsumikan, they have had difficult times securing enough quantity to produce Natsukanto. Today, with the cooperation of farmers in Hagi and Wakayama, the Natsukanto is still available, usually from April 1st to mid July. The availability depends on the harvest of Natsumikan, but this year, they will be available until July 14th. They have two directly operated stores in Kitano and Arashiyama in Kyoto, and three stores in department stores (Daimaru Kyoto, Isetan Shinjyuku and JR Osaka Mitsukoshi Isetan) where you can buy them. Please refer to the link for details.
You can also order online, and they will be accepting orders of Natsukanto until July 7th with delivery up until July 14th. So hurry if you wish to get a taste of this refreshing pre-summer dessert before we head into the real summer season! They are 1,512 JPY per piece (including tax). Order online
FROM : Oimatsu
NAME : Natsukanto
WHERE IN TOKYO : Isetan Shinjyuku or can be ordered online
WHEN : April-mid July every year
Related article: Wagashi Favorites Haru-no-yume “spring dream” from Oimatsu