Baking in Japan was once an esoteric practice until after World War II when the American military distributed cheap factory bread for school lunches as a substitute for rice. But Japan's baking culture evolved over time since they began to embrace the concept of bread as a delicacy for something other than breakfast. Present day, it has become a staple in Japanese food where the country has managed to expand bread and other baked goods to the point where people are now eating more bread than rice.
Bread itself is still more of a comfort food, especially for women, than something to eat regularly with every meal. But with cross-cultural aspects through the West and East, it is changing. In bakeries, cake shops and convenience stores there is not only many kinds of bread on sale but other treats such as doughnuts, cookies, and more.
What sets Japanese baked goods from others is their presentation, ingredients and taste. Hokuo, Kobeya and Little Mermaid are just some of the bakery chains you’ll see around the country. The presentation of the bread is always well thought out. Instead of the baked goods being behind the glass counter, it is laid out nicely in baskets for you to view. You are given a tong and a tray in order to choose for yourself before purchasing.
Japanese bakeries usually use ingredients that would tailor to Japanese taste buds but with Western cooking techniques. Instead of fruit jam doughnuts and chocolate croissants, a variety of traditional fillings are added such as red bean paste doughnuts, black sesame, deep-fried pork sandwiches and melon-flavored bread. Some of these have even become nationwide favorites and also popular to tourists visiting Japan.
Like most places, bakeries will have special seasonal treats that you can try for a limited time. The taste of baked goods compared to Western bakeries is usually less overly sweet in Japan. For autumn, it is usually pumpkin or chestnut flavoured treats. Spring caters to the cherry blossom time with cherry, peach and strawberry flavored products. In the summer, honey and yuzu fruit are very popular. During the winter, bakeries sell a lot of sweet potato and gingerbread due to the Christmas season.
It is worth checking out the baking culture in Japan the next time you go into a bakery for not only purchasing some delicious treats but to see the attention and detail put into the idea of Japanese baking. Bon appetit, or itadakimasu!