Shimoshiraiwa Fossil Foraminifera Nougat. Ishiki Pillow Lava Cookies. These might sound just like geological terms but they are in fact the names of sweets. Geogashi features sweets that recreate geological shapes, not only endorsed by experts but also damned tasty as well! Who is behind this truly unique and curious idea? Two women living in Minamiizu, at the top of the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture.
“Geo” is the Greek word for earth, ground or land. Izu was once a volcanic island and collided with Honshu to form the present peninsula. Some years ago Izu Geopark was announced, a project aiming to gain global geopark status for the region.
But even so, how did this marriage of “geo” and “sweets” (kashi or gashi) come about? Well, in the height of the summer as bathers packed the area, we headed out to Minamiizu to meet the “Geogashi Carvan” duo behind the idea.
What is the theme behind your work?
It’s about unearthing the geological resources of the Izu peninsula, and rediscovering the bounty this brings to the area and its culture. We want to search for a way to recognize this value, and work to tell people about it. We started by producing and selling a series of sweets with motifs of Izu as a geological site, and running workshops. We were conscious of making something fun for the people who visit the peninsula and so we created this project.
How did Geogashi come about?
(Haruna Terashima) I’ve always loved the Izu land where I was brought up. I even belonged to the geoscience club in high school. I took an Izu “geo-guide” training course the year before last and that was super interesting, and I wanted to tell more people about how wonderful the geology is in Izu. And since I’m good at cooking, I tried to make something with sweets. I showed my experiments to a few people and that’s how I met Michiko Suzuki. (Right-hand side: Haruna Terashima, born Minamiizu, certified Izu Peninsula Geo-Guide)
(Michiko Suzuki) I’m from Ohito in Izunokuni, and after graduating from an art college in Tokyo I worked in film and advertising. Six years ago I moved to Minamiizu and turned freelance. It’s tough for one girl to do creative work all by herself in the countryside. People don’t have the concept here that you should pay money for design work. Instead I’d find two radishes left in my doorway as a thank-you, or I’d be invited to dinner, and that would be it. It was really hard to get people to understand and raise my income. I joined a cable TV channel in order to better learn about the region. This is a bit of a side track but the documentary I made at that time of my local area won an NHK contest for regional videos. This gave me the conviction that my town had enough strength to make things. I produced it by really getting into the narrative of the place and properly explaining it. (Left-hand side: Michiko Suzuki, born in Izunokuni, certified Izu Peninsula Geo-Guide])
There are eight types of sweets, aren’t there? How do you make them?
The most popular is this Kayano Hachikubo Volcano Scoria Chocolate. Kayano is in Izu City and scoria is a volanic rock that has many holes formed by dissolved gases in the magma. It was hard to recreate the shape with the air bubbles and the weight. There is Kayano black rice in it, but it would soften when heated. We tried many things such as okaki but in the end we settled on this chocolate. The black rice is actually grown at a lava plateau formed when the volcano Hachikubo erupted. The Joren Falls are said to be where the lava flowed down.
There are lots of ones recreating the geology but there are also ones that are “deformed” in order to express the form of the land. This Yumigahama Sand Spit Cookie is modeled on the Minamiizu coast and it forms a distant view of the landscape in order to explain how the beach is a beautiful arch shape.
The Ishiki Pillow Lava Cookie came about after a request from the mayor of Nishiizu, who loves pillow lava rock. The pillow lava flowed around 20 million years ago, when the Izu peninsula was still at the bottom of the sea in the south. It is called “pillow” because when it came into contact with the sea water and cooled into these tube-like shapes, these looked like pillows that had been stacked on top of each other. It is the oldest geological layer in Izu and in it you can see the Nishina strata.
The Benten-jima Cross Lamina Pie got the most reaction from experts. The main point here are the slanted lines between the horizontal layers. Replicating that was much harder than making an ordinary pie.
The packaging is also really elaborate, isn’t it?
We wanted people to get interested through the act of eating and then actually go to the places, so we added this “guide tool” to the sweets. The geological maps and explanations about the actual inspirations for each the sweets were supervised by a professional researcher, Yusuke Suzuki, at the Izu Peninsula Geopark Council.
The poems you include with the sweets are also a nice touch.
Yes, we think up those between us. [Laughs]
Where will you go with Geogashi in the future?
Geogashi are handmade sweets and we want to expand the number of types we offer to the whole Izu area, such as Mishima, Atami and Kannami, as well as increase production. We’d love it if all the sweets makers in the region made Geogashi. If we want Izu to become a geopark then the residents also need to get excited about it. Unless the locals recognize the resources of the region again and take pride in it, then it won’t become a true tourist resource.
This is why the Geogashi Caravan is planning all kinds of activities based around Geogashi so through experiences people keep Izu in their mind and want to tell others about it. For example, recently we’ve been doing sweets workshops for elementary school students, and kayaking where you can see the geological sites from the sea. We are also planning informal “geo-tours” for locals.
If you think about it, folk tales, customs and beliefs — these are all connected to geology. Geogashi’s forte is that it functions as a medium for telling people about geology; learning while eating.
Lastly, Suzuki and Terashima took us to see the site that inspired the Benten-jima Cross Lamina Pie. These beautiful layers of diagonal lines appear out of nowhere in Shimoda. And look at the trees, growing there in spite of the odds!
The cross-bedding is a zigzagging sediment layer left by sediment from sea floor piles of sand and volcanic ash in the period when the Izu peninsula was still at the seabed, which was then affected by water flow. The patterns are much liked and were popular as stone in the Edo era.
Go round to the ocean side and the spot is even more impressive.
It is also apparently the spot where Shoin Yoshida tried to smuggle his way onto Perry’s Black Ships during the nineteenth century. It’s fun to open up the packaging and read the explanation, and then head to the actual place and see the scale of it all.
Geogashi is popular with locals and geologists for its original concept and design that recreates actual geology. Experts have even approached the Suzuki and Terashima and suggested new ideas for sweets to them. The duo continue to make the sweets and with meticulously selected ingredients. Let’s hope they can make Geogashi into a long-lasting omiyage souvenir for the Izu area.
You can currently buy Geogashi at thirteen places, including the D47 Design Travel Store in Shibuya Hikarie, the museum shop at the Kyoto University Museum, and of course, in the Izu area in Shizuoka prefecture.