Japanese café Usagi Sweets opens with mochi mochi, matcha cookies, tea, and more on Oak Street

Hospitality, creativity, and culinary skills are in owner Moeno Kawai's blood

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      A new Japanese sweets shop and café is up and running on Vancouver’s west side.

      Usagi Sweets (3720 Oak Street) is a passion project of Moeno Kawai, a Yokohama native who grew up mostly in Vancouver. (She returned to Japan, specifically Osaka, as an adult to study seamstressing and patternmaking. Diverse talents run in the family: her parents, Miju and Hiroshi Kawai, are long-time local restaurateurs who ran the now-defunct Basho Café and who have also operated sushi spots in town; her sister, Mitsumi, cofounded Kuma Tofino, a standout restaurant in the surf town.)  

      Kawai has fond memories of going to confections stores called wagashiyas in Japan as a child.

      “When I was younger, I loved wagashiyas; I always got excited to visit them,” Kawai tells the Straight in an interview at the minimalist space, made cozy with her hand-made, crocheted bases for flower pots and table and chair stands. “My mom had worked at one, and I had always wanted to work at one. I wanted to emulate that over here; this is my Canadian take on it.”

      Usagi carries small treats like kinako bites, made with roasted soybean flour and honey; matcha loaf; brownies (including a goma[sesame]-miso version); "mochi mochi" (chewy, sweet goodies made with glutinous rice in various flavours, such as goma-coconut, cream-cheese, brownie, and nuts-and-cranberry); all sorts of cookies, such as hojicha (roasted green tea), matcha-espresso, matcha-milk, and kabocha; matcha alfajores; and more. The sweets range from $0.75 to $1.50 each.

      Several of the items are vegan, while drinks include Japanese tea and Cultivate Tea.

      Usagi also offers a daily onigiri lunch set ($11, or $10 for the vegan version). It consists of two onigiri (rice balls), two kinds of vegetables (which will change daily; they could be roasted or pickled); and a flavoured boiled egg.

      Usagi takes its name from the Japanese word for rabbit, and the shop’s logo features a line drawing of a bunny inside a full moon. “In Japanese lore, there’s a rabbit in the moon making mochi, rather than a man in the moon," Kawai says. "I can actually see the rabbit’s ears and hind feet when I look up at a full moon on a bright night.”

      Kawai’s dad did much of the woodwork in the 400-square-foot interior and refurbished the concrete floor, while Vancouver’s Jay Miron made the three tables’ cherry-wood tops and the retail shelving unit, which holds Japanese dishes, textiles, and other goods.

      Usagi Sweets is open Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.