When it comes to food, it's safe to say I'm better at eating, than making.
Yet, here I was at Ueno Park in Tokyo, tasked with drawing up my own pastry concoction. Not just any pastry - but a Japanese pastry or "wagashi." The sweets are typically made with red bean paste and mochi or rice cake. But they're equally known for their intricate designs, often inspired by the mood or spirit of any given season here.
I'd decided to try my hand at wagashi-making, to test out Airbnb's newly packaged "experiences." Offered on the home-sharing site's platform, it's part of the company's ambitious effort to move into travel planning. Experiences in Tokyo include sword fighting classes with a trained samurai to a two-day outing with a sushi chef.
I'd always been curious about the process of making Japanese sweets, so why not experience it?
Host Shiho Sakamoto greeted me at a nearby train station, along with my fellow Airbnb-er Patrick Revelo. We took a leisurely stroll along the park, where Shiho handed us a sketchbook and a pack of colored pencils, imploring us to seek out inspirations for our creation.
The fall colors, with bright red and yellow leaves, seemed like a natural place to start.
"I always come here to walk around before making wagashi," she said as I struggled to formulate my inspirations on paper. "To me, this is the most important time."
Shiho is a familiar face in the world of wagashi, known for her modern take on traditional Japanese sweets. She's even been commissioned by First Lady Akie Abe to cater an event. But she told me, she sought out the Airbnb platform to bring a distinctly Japanese art to foreigners. Her two day course "Sweet Wagashi" costs $228 per person.
"I wanted to share my experience, my life as a wagashi artist to other people, especially non-Japanese people," she said.
With our inspirations and sketches in hand, we headed out to our next stop, Kappabashi Street. The area known as "Kitchen Town" is a gathering of stores supplying the restaurant trade. Japanese ceramics, chopsticks, and even plastic food are up for retail here, but we made our way to a store that caters to the art of Japanese pastry-making. There were tiny cutouts of cherry blossoms, and leaves used as decorations to top off the confections. Shiho encouraged us to buy anything that could add to our creations, but I decided to keep it simple.
On Day 2, we gathered in Shiho's kitchen, to begin the hard work: drawing up the recipe, mixing the color, and creating the actual confection. We used a white bean paste as our base, which meant that every color, every mistake stands out.
Shiho rolled the white bean paste into a ball, added the colored ingredients to seamlessly blend all the pieces together. I followed, but the results couldn't be any different.
"I was so surprised that you had such a clear image in your mind. Much easier to teach" she assured me, as I looked at my deformed concoction, next to her flower shaped wagashi.
Fortunately for me, I had a fellow experiencer who was equally frustrated. Patrick Revelo had already gone on two Airbnb Trips, but said this was by far the most challenging.
"The paste is so malleable, so you have to be careful in the way you handle it," Revelo said. "It can be very frustrating."
Shiho hosts a few of these classes a month, in addition to Japanese courses she teaches. Her "Sweet Wagashi" class is one of 500 trips listed on Airbnb's new platform.
Before I leave, I ask Shiho, how my performance rates compared to other Airbnb-ers. Has she ever had a "disaster?"
"Sometimes? Maybe every time," she laughs. "Some people spill color all over the table. Most give up altogether."