Three-color dango (pink, white, and green) on skewers placed on a black plate. A cup of green tea with a cherry blossom design is in the background.

Discovering Dango: Symbolism, Varieties, and Lesser-Known Facts

by: Hideo Takahashi



Time to read 4 min

Colorful dango on a white plate. The skewers have green, white, and pink dango. The background is a brightly colored table.


In Japan, dango are delightful rice flour dumplings enjoyed year-round and are a symbol of Japanese culinary tradition. Whether found in convenience stores, supermarkets, or traditional sweets shops, the popularity and deliciousness of dango are undeniable.

This article explores the cultural significance, popularity, and variety of dango. From traditional flavors to modern twists, dango has captured the hearts of people all over Japan and beyond. Let's dive into the world of dango and discover why these sweet and chewy treats are cherished by so many.

What is dango

Hanami dango is a type of wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweet, consisting of dumplings made from sweetened rice flour. These dumplings are colored pink, white, and green and are typically served on a skewer. They have a sweet and mild flavor with a firm and chewy texture. Unlike other types of dango, which are often served with toppings such as kinako (soybean flour), red bean paste, or a sweet soy glaze, hanami dango is best enjoyed with the sight of cherry blossoms, a full stomach of onigiri, and a cup of flavorful green tea.

Japanese woman in traditional kimono dress holding sweet hanami d.jpg" alt="Japanese woman in a colorful kimono holding sweet hanami dango. She is standing in front of blooming cherry blossoms.

What is Dango Made Of?

Dango is a traditional Japanese sweet dumpling made primarily from rice flour (also known as mochiko). The rice flour is mixed with water to form a dough, which is then shaped into small round balls. These balls are typically boiled until they become firm and chewy. Some variations of dango may include additional ingredients like glutinous rice flour for extra stickiness, or other flavorings such as green tea (matcha), soy sauce, or red bean paste.

Close-up of white rice cakes. The texture is soft and smooth.

What Does Dango Taste Like?

Dango has a unique texture and flavor that sets it apart from other sweets. Its taste can vary depending on the type and the toppings used. Generally, plain dango has a mildly sweet, neutral flavor with a chewy and slightly sticky texture. The taste is often enhanced by the toppings or sauces added to it. Popular variations include:

Mitarashi Dango

Coated in a sweet soy sauce glaze, giving it a savory and slightly sweet flavor.

Mitarashi dango on a blue and white plate. The dango are glazed with a sweet soy sauce and slightly charred.

Anko Dango

Topped with sweet red bean paste, adding a rich, sweet taste.

Two skewers of anko-covered dango on a black plate. The background is a bamboo mat.

Matcha Dango

Flavored with green tea powder, providing a slightly bitter and earthy flavor.

Matcha green tea-flavored dango on skewers served with a cup of tea on a wooden tray.

The Origins and Symbolism Behind Dango

Dango's history dates back to the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE), where archaeological evidence suggests that rice cultivation was already prevalent in Japan. The earliest form of dango was likely simple steamed rice cakes. Over time, the method of preparing dango evolved, incorporating various ingredients and cooking techniques.

By the Heian period (794-1185), dango had become a popular treat among the aristocracy. It was during this era that the concept of hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, began to take shape. Dango was often consumed during these gatherings, symbolizing the transient beauty of the blossoms.

A couple of people dressed in Japanese clothes eating danggo

Dango by Numbers

While there are many types of dango, there are stories and explanations behind them that even many Japanese people are unaware of. For example, the number of dango on a skewer has different historical reasons and cultural characteristics.

Three Dumplings

The three-colored hanami dango—pink, white, and green—holds symbolic significance. Pink represents spring, white signifies winter, and green symbolizes summer. Interestingly, autumn is omitted, which is a play on words in Japanese meaning “not getting tired” (飽きない, akinai), signifying that one will never tire of enjoying dango. Another interpretation is that pink stands for cherry blossoms, white for the blossoms in full bloom, and green for the leaves after the blossoms have fallen.

Sanshoku dango (three-colored dango) on a black plate. The dango are pink, white, and green.

Four Dumplings

In Tokyo, during the Edo period, dango were often skewered in sets of five, sold for five mon. However, when four-mon coins started circulating, shopkeepers, to prevent cheating, reduced the number to four. Today, in Kanto, four-dango skewers are common, while in Kansai, five-dango skewers prevail.

Plate of mitarashi dango glazed with sweet soy sauce. The plate has a floral design.

Five Dumplings

The tradition of skewering five dango is still seen in some regions, and it also correlates with historical pricing practices. Some believe it was simply a convenient number for pricing and serving.

Hand holding two skewers of mitarashi dango. The dango are slightly charred. Background shows a street food stall.

Fifteen Dumplings

On the night of the 15th of the eighth month in the old lunar calendar, people celebrate the "Mid-Autumn Moon" . Tsukimi dango (moon-viewing dumplings) are an essential offering during this festival.

Tsukimi-dango Japanese dumplings for moon viewing

Forty-Nine Dumplings

At funerals, you might see offerings with 49 dumplings. This number is significant in Buddhism, representing the 49 days of mourning during which the deceased’s soul transitions. Offering one dango each day accumulates merit for the deceased.

A bowl filled with white dango, with a small green leaf decoration on the side. The dango are smooth and round.

Famous Dango Shops in Japan

Kyo Meika Suhama Dango

This Kyoto specialty is known for its delightful texture and refined sweetness. Made from high-quality rice flour and sweetened bean paste, Suhama Dango is a must-try for visitors to Kyoto.

Mame Masa Honten

Located near Kyoto-Gosho (the Imperial Palace). They have been making bean snacks in Kyoto for over 130 years.

Mosu Dango

A popular brand, Mosu Dango is loved for its consistency and taste. Their dango comes in various flavors, including matcha, sesame, and sakura, making it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

Kamei Seika

Famous for its "Botchan Dango," this shop offers a five-dango skewer that delights locals and tourists alike. The dango here is soft, chewy, and perfectly sweet, making it an ideal treat for any time of the day.

Author Bio

Hideo Takahashi

Hideo Takahashi

Born in Tokyo in 1990. Founder of JAPANBITE and CEO of its operating company, GRID Start, Ltd.
Established the company in 2023 after being an IT engineer.
Inspired by his travels to 15 countries and a deep love for Japanese food, he launched a service to contribute to small local Japanese manufacturers' businesses and allow many foreigners to enjoy Japanese culture.

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