The History of Otaru and Culture of Japanese Confectionary (Wagashi)



 Otaru is a port city located in the Midwest of Hokkaido. It is a popular town attracting travelers year-round, famous for its sushi and marine products, sweets such as “LeTAO,” handcrafted glass blown crafts from “Kitaichi” and the beautiful picturesque scenery of the town including the “Otaru Canal.” Otaru is a popular site among tourists as it is relatively easy to access, about a 75-minute ride on the train from the largest airport in Hokkaido, New Chitose Airport. Or just about a 35-minute drive from Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido.

 Long ago, Otaru was a bustling fishing zone for Pacific Herring. After that, the port became the center for trade and developed into a prosperous economy. Because of that, you can see historical structures scattered throughout the downtown area and deeply rooted traditional Japanese food culture. Japanese Confectionary is one of the deeply rooted food cultures of Otaru.

Rokumi, a Japanese Confectionary shop in Otaru

 Japanese Confectionary is a Traditional Japanese snack and a characteristic of Japan. It’s made of adzuki beans, rice flour, wheat flour, sugar and plant-based ingredients. The distinct level of sweetness is relatively refreshing. Within Japan, Kyoto was the origin to numerous famous Japanese Confectionary shops scattered throughout the prefecture, while Hokkaido wasn’t really associated with Japanese Confectionary at that time. However, even in Hokkaido traditional Japanese Confectionary is spreading and can now be enjoyed in everyday life. There is a Japanese Confectionary shop in Otaru that has been around for more than 100 years! The reason why Japanese Confectionary spread to Otaru was because the port town of Otaru was formerly a very prosperous sea port and the center of Hokkaido’s economy.

 In this article, we will look into Otaru’s history and introduce the charms of Otaru’s Japanese Confectionary.

What is Japanese Confectionary?

 Before we start the main topic, let’s first introduce what Japanese Confectionary is. Japanese Confectionary is a traditional Japanese snack and a characteristic of Japan. There are various opinions on its origin. According to one theory, during the Nara Period (710 ~ 784) Japan was trading with the Tang Dynasty (what is now China, and some time from the year 618 to 907) sweet confectionary first entered Japan. After that, Japan changed the style to conform to traditional “Tea Ceremony” and the sweets evolved and became established as Japan specific confectionary. The traditional Japanese Confectionary became a special snack eaten during important ceremonial occasions, annual events, regional festivals and prayer time for a good catch at sea. Also, for turning points in people’s lives, the start of a new season, celebrations, entertainment, gifts and times of prayer.

▼ Japanese Confectionary (Yokan)

 Japanese Confectionary is made while being conscious of the 4 seasons, as well as regional cultures. Depending on the season, the design and contents of ingredients change accordingly. Even if the ingredients are the same, depending on the region, the way they are made as well as the names can differ. This creates quite a variety that can be hard to recognize at first glance. Some of the standard Japanese Confectionary include, “Dango,” “Daifuku,” “Dorayaki” and “Yokan.”

▼ Rokumi’s Japanese Confectionary (Dango)

 Dango is a mochi snack made of round balls of mochi on a skewer with soy sauce flavoring or “Anko,” an adzuki bean paste and sugar mixture, which is spread on top. Daifuku is a round mochi snack consisting of adzuki bean paste wrapped in mochi, and in recent years, chocolate or custard cream are sometimes used instead of adzuki bean paste.  Dorayaki is a disk-shaped baked snack with dough made from rice flour or wheat flour and adzuki bean paste is placed inside like a hamburger. Yokan is a thickened form of adzuki bean paste mixed with gelatin and poured into a mold before hardening.

▼ Japanese Confectionary (Dorayaki)

 On the other hand, cake like sweets that consist of butter or fresh cream are called Western Confectionary, and not referred to as Japanese Confectionary. However, fresh cream is sometimes used instead of adzuki bean paste in Daifuku sweets, and in recent years the fusion of Western Confectionary and Japanese Confectionary is combined in a way making it hard to make a clear distinction between the two.

The reason why there are many Japanese Confectionary shops in Otaru

 It is said that there are many confectionary shops in Otaru. In recent years, shops such as, “LeTAO” which sell western style cakes and cookies may stand out, however there are still many shops that handle Japanese Confectionary in the way of ancient Japan. Some shops in the Otaru area were established over 100 years ago.

▼ Sugimoto Kagetsudo is a Japanese Confectionary shop that opened for business in a building built around 1915. Currently, a Japanese Confectionary shop called “Otaru Shougetsudo” is open for business in this building. (photo provided by the Otaru City General Museum, duplication prohibited)  

 It is said that the reason Otaru is the origin to many Japanese Confectionary shops is because it was formerly the metropolis of Hokkaido’s economy, and the town’s main source of distribution and commerce.

 Let’s have a look at Otaru’s history in order to understand the historical background of how Japanese Confectionary got rooted in Otaru.

The historical background of the flourishing times of Otaru City

 Otaru began expanding from the Meiji Period. The Meiji Period was the beginning of modern Japan and lasted for about 45 years, from January 25th of 1868 to July 30th of 1912. Before the Meiji Period was the Edo Period, which lasted for around 265 years, ruled by the Tokugawa family who reigned over Japan and military rulers. This was also known as the period when trade with various foreign countries was prohibited. When Japan changed from the Edo Period to the Meiji Period, Japan opened its doors and trade and international exchange with Western countries began. Suddenly, an inflow of culture from the West entered Japan and industrialization began.

▼ Around the former Otaru Harbor (photo provided by the Otaru City General Museum, duplication prohibited)

 Otaru is located in the deep inner part of what is called, the Ishikari Bay. It’s known as a fine harbor with nice geographical features, with 3 mountainous sides and beautiful nature. From the second half of the Edo Period, this area began to flourish as a Pacific herring fishing town. After that, the City of Otaru went through a dramatic change.  There were 2 major reasons for this. First, in 1872 the early-Meiji administrative unit for Hokkaido (the administration in charge of developing Hokkaido) was placed in Sapporo, just about 40km south-east of Otaru. Secondly, in 1880 Hokkaido’s first railroad was extended to Otaru. The reason why the railroad was extended to Otaru was to transport an abundance of coal being found underground in inland areas of Hokkaido, such as the Horonai area (what is now currently Mikasa) to the Otaru port.

▼ The railroad route at that time has been discontinued, but the old track of what used to be the Temiya Line has been preserved and is now a very popular sightseeing spot.

 When the railroad was first built, it was used to transport coal from inland Hokkaido to Otaru. On the way back inland, the trains would transport Pacific Herring fertilizer for agricultural use, and goods brought by trading ships (Kita Maebune) from other parts of Japan. Hokkaido was formerly inhabited by the indigenous people known as the Ainu, however around this time mass development was taking place within Hokkaido. Many goods and commodities were brought to Otaru from all over Japan and through the railroad, and distributed to many places throughout Hokkaido, including rice, which wasn’t grown in Hokkaido at that time. In addition, Otaru was the place where immigrants who came to the Coast of the Sea of Japan would enter, and along with them came an introduction of various cultures and lifestyles.

▼ The Otaru Canal around 1923 (photo provided by the Otaru City General Museum, duplication prohibited)


 In the 1900’s, towards the end of the Meiji Period and the beginning of the Taisho Period (July 30th, 1912 ~ December 25th, 1926), many banks, marine transportation companies and trading companies were established. The Otaru Canal was developed in 1923 to support the influx of domestic goods arriving at the port from various places within Japan as well as international locations. At this time, the railroad was extended to places in Hokkaido beyond just coal mining towns, and Hokkaido goods such as peppermint, adzuki beans, coal and agricultural products were loaded on trains to be assembled in Otaru before being exported to other parts of Japan and abroad.

▼ Otaru’s former bank district. Some of these buildings are still standing today and are being reused as tourist facilities. (photo provided by the Otaru City General Museum, duplication prohibited)

 Just like that, Otaru changed from a fishing harbor to a coal shipping harbor. At the same time, the position of the harbor was ideal for aiding the Hokkaido Cultivation Project that was also taking place. The harbor was also used to support Japan’s modern industry, and through all of this Otaru became the center of Hokkaido’s economy and the place where goods, money and people gathered.

Why did Japanese Confectionary start to flourish when Otaru became a major distribution hub?

 What do you think the reason is for Japanese Confectionary becoming popular after Otaru  made the shift of becoming the center of Hokkaido’s economy and distributor of goods?

 There are 4 possible main reasons listed below.

① Demand and consumption of goods increased along with the increasing population

 Along with Otaru’s port opening its doors up for trade, the population naturally increased, and up until the middle of the Meiji Period, Otaru was the metropolis of Hokkaido with a population even surpassing Sapporo’s. Along with the increasing population, the demand for food also naturally increased. Although Japanese Confectionary isn’t part of the three daily meals, they are certainly an indispensable part of Japanese life, which means as the population increased, so did the amount of consumption of Japanese Confectionary. In total, it is said that the people who were coming to Hokkaido from all over Japan weren’t just developers and people in the trading business, but were also people who specialized in making Japanese Confectionary.

② Assembling ingredients and raw materials

 Some of the main raw ingredients that are needed to make Japanese Confectionary are mochi rice, sugar, adzuki beans and wheat flour. At that time, the rice and sugar was being imported by ship into Otaru, and the adzuki beans were being shipped into Otaru by railroad from various farms around Hokkaido that were enthusiastically developing agriculture. Otaru is also rich with good quality water, which is crucial for making Japanese Confectionary. The area is abundant with good quality water without any kind of aftertaste and is even used for brewing alcohol in the area. It is said that because of the easy access to abundant ingredients, and the location around great quality water, the expansion of Japanese Confectionary flourished, and many shops opened up for business around various places in Otaru.

▼ Seen here around the mid 1900’s, ROKUMI Mochi Confectionary Shop, which sold mochi and Japanese Confectionary. Currently known as ROKUMI. (Photo provided by ROKUMI)

③ Mochi was popular

 It is said that there was a high demand in Otaru for the kind of mochi used for making Japanese Confectionary. At that time, there were many mochi shops in Otaru City, and even now there are a few mochi shops still in business from those days. Currently, there are also shops that have remained in business that formerly sold mochi, and now sell Japanese Confectionary. There are various opinions on why mochi was popular in Otaru at that time. Let’s have a look at 2 main explanations. The first reason is that in the same way as Japanese Confectionary, because of the location, the ingredients were easily accessible. The other reason is because at that time there were many harbor workers, and it is said that mochi was popular because it was easy to carry, easy to eat and quite filling.

④ The demand for Japanese Confectionary is high in a developing town

 Let’s identify the settings when Japanese Confectionary is consumed. Originally, Japanese Confectionary was not a kind of casual snack eaten daily. Instead, it was made to be enjoyed during special occasions and important ceremonial events, such as times of prayer, annual events, regional festivals, gifts to neighbors, souvenirs, something to give someone as a present and also as offerings during spiritual times. Japanese Confectionary is a kind of customary Japanese characteristic. It is said that because Otaru was formerly a flourishing Pacific Herring fishing area, there was a demand for Japanese Confectionary, as the fisherman would give it as an offering during times of prayer. Praying for a successful catch and also for safety when out on the boats. As the population increased, more and more Temples and Shrines were established. The number of weddings, as well as the amount of people visiting ancestor’s gravesites also increased. As a result, the demand for Japanese Confectionary also increased as these are all occasions when Japanese Confectionary is consumed. It is also thought that because there were so many new buildings being built, every time there was a completion of construction, the company or shop would have a prayer ceremony, which was also a setting for Japanese Confectionary. These times also provided many occasions to pass out Japanese Confectionary as souvenirs.

▼ Seen here around the early 1900’s, a shop that sold Japanese Confectionary, sweets and miscellaneous goods. (photo provided by the Otaru City General Museum, duplication prohibited)

 When confirming with history books, you can see that from the early days of the Meiji Period, Japanese confectionary shops already existed around the downtown area of Otaru. From around the middle of the Meiji Period through the Taisho Period, various sizes of Japanese Confectionary shops and wholesalers were established, as well as merchant associations. It was at this time when the business world of Japanese Confectionary flourished. Also, in those days the southern part of what is now Russia’s Sakhalin Island, used to be called “South Karafuto” and was Japanese territory. The Otaru Port was the gateway of Hokkaido for ships taking off to the “South Karafuto.” It is said that some of the Japanese Confectionary shops and wholesalers in Otaru also had a branch in the “South Karafuto.”

Japanese Confectionary shops and wholesalers were very prosperous, then a complete change by war

 The phase changed during the Showa Period (December 25th, 1926 ~ January 7th, 1989). The Showa Period lasted around 64 years, and during that era was the Second World War (September 1st, 1939 ~ September 2nd, 1945). There was a turning point in pre-war to post-war and a dramatic change in social conditions. Along with the changes in social conditions, Japanese Confectionary also went through a rise and fall. In the beginning of the Showa Period, social conditions continued as they were in the Taisho Period and there were even a few new Japanese Confectionary shops that opened and were prosperous. However, friction started to build between various foreign countries and the world became tainted with a dark sense of war. As World War II began, there were strict limitations on goods and materials, creating a difficult situation for producing Japanese Confectionary. It’s fair to guess that during the war, there was probably almost no demand for Japanese Confectionary as it wasn’t a time for celebrations or exchanging gifts. It is said that all at once, the Japanese Confectionary shops and wholesalers had to consolidate, and the number of shops drastically decreased.

 When the war ended in 1945, some of the pre-war Japanese Confectionary shops reopened. Even to this day, there are some old Japanese Confectionary shops in Otaru that are still in business from the post-war reopen. However, after the war, the trend of Japanese Confectionary somewhat went out of fashion, and the area entered an era where cakes and Western Confectionary have become more mainstream. Let’s have a detailed look at the background of the post-war history of Otaru.

Otaru changes from the center of Hokkaido’s economy to a tourist city

 The post-war City of Otaru lost its thriving atmosphere and the momentum of expansion that it had in the Meiji and Taisho Periods. The entire City of Otaru especially went through a decline and turning point from the 1960’s through the 1970’s. After World War ll, the “South Karafuto” became Russia’s territory and the role of Otaru being the north entrance came to an end. Furthermore, in the 1960’s the gigantic port of Tomakomai was developed about 70 kilometers south of Sapporo on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The location for marine transport shifted from Otaru to Tomakomai. The role that Otaru’s Port once had for distributing goods to Hokkaido pivoted and its importance deteriorated. Along with the decline in Otaru’s role as a distributor, many banks and trading companies one after another started to withdrawal from the city. As the center of Hokkaido’s governance, and a city with an increasing population, Sapporo became the central city of Hokkaido’s economy.

The Otaru Canal falls into ruins. Photo taken around 1980. (photo provided by the Otaru City General Museum, duplication prohibited)

 In the 1970’s, formerly the bustling Otaru Canal with cargo ships coming and going was vacant and deteriorating. With a foul smell filling the air, scattered damaged boats and trash floating on the water and nearby shore, it was clear that the canal was falling into ruins. As the canal was no longer necessary, a plan was put forth in order to expand the nearby road, and part of the canal was then filled and made into a road. As a result of local citizens campaigning for 10 years to preserve the canal, a part of the canal was not reclaimed, and instead preserved and maintained as a sightseeing spot with hopes to share the history of Otaru with future generations. Currently, Otaru’s sightseeing showpiece spot, the Otaru Canal.

The Otaru Canal in recent years

 Around the time when Otaru City was having a big debate on whether or not to preserve or do away with the canal, the Otaru Port went through a transition period and transformed from formerly being the center of Hokkaido’s economy, to a tourist city. Other than the canal being maintained, the stone-built warehouse that was formerly used as the fishermen’s warehouse is now the iconic glass shop, “Kitaichi Glass.” The historical buildings in the area started getting converted into tourist facilities. From the 1980’s onward, buildings scattered throughout the city that weren’t being used, such as former trading company warehouses, banks that withdrew from the area and company office buildings, have been remodeled one after another. These modern Japanese traditional structures are now being used as restaurants, souvenir shops, art museums and more.

Otaru’s bank street. A view of the former bank district in recent years taken from almost the same spot

 Currently, the old stone-built structures are being put to good use as handcrafted glass shops and souvenir shops, as well as an area called, “Sakaimachi Shopping District” filled with many sweets shops. Many historical structures are scattered throughout the city, such as the old bank structures that are lined up in the Ironai District and scattered around what has been given the profound names of “The Otaru Bank District” and “The Ironai Bank District.”  Otaru has become a popular sightseeing spot with travelers visiting day after day.

While the presence of Western Confectionary increases, Japanese Confectionary stays popular and deeply rooted

 Together with the City of Otaru pivoting from being Hokkaido’s central economy and a goods distributor, to a tourist city, the culture of Japanese Confectionary in Otaru also went through changes. It is thought that along with the decline in the economy, and a decrease in times for celebrating and exchanging gifts, to some degree the demand for Japanese Confectionary also decreased. Furthermore, another big influence that caused a shift in demand, was from around the 1970’s cakes and other Western Confectionary started spreading throughout all of Japan. From around the 1970’s, a large number of cake shops started opening in Otaru without exception. There soon was an increase in shops that sold both Japanese and Western Confectionary such as cookies.

Nowadays, many Japanese Confectionary shops even sell truffles, pie and other Western Confectionary (Inside Rokumi)

 It’s safe to say that Otaru has developed a presence as a tourist city. Up until now, the main purchasers of Japanese and Western Confectionary were the local citizens of Otaru, but these days there is a gradual increase in the ratio of tourists. The trend is especially remarkable among Western Confectionary. New shops like LeTAO, Rokkatei and Kitakaro have become famous confectionary producers with shops opening up one after another to fulfill the demand of tourists. Buying Otaru sweets as souvenirs has become a standard routine.

Many sweets shops such as LeTAO set up in the Sakaimachi Shopping District

 Although Western Confectionary has recently been getting attention in Otaru, Japanese Confectionary has a history and continues to be loved by the local area, so the deep-rooted demand and popularity will not change. There are some shops that have been around for many years that continue to only produce and sell Japanese Confectionary. There are also a large number of shops these days that use ingredients such as azuki bean paste, which represents Japanese Confectionary, as well as ingredients such as butter, which represents Western Confectionary. With such combined ingredients, there are many shops with creations that cross the borderlines of both Japanese and Western Confectionary. If you travel to Otaru, please reflect and notice the Japanese Confectionary shops and the history of the Otaru.

Introducing Otaru’s Notable Japanese Confectionary shops

 Lastly, we would like to point out and introduce a few Japanese Confectionary shops in Otaru.

Otaru Nikuraya(小樽新倉屋)

Otaru Nikuraya Hanazono Headquarters (photo provided by Otaru Nikuraya) 

 Otaru Nikuraya is a long-established Japanese Confectionary shop that set up their first store in the Hanazono Ginza Shopping District. The shop was established in 1895 as a general grocery shop, and in the early 1900’s started selling cheap individually wrapped sweets, (a popular Japanese-style Confectionary made from brown sugar). Then, from around 1936 the shop started producing and selling skewered Dango, which they called, “Hanazono Dango.”

Otaru Nikuraya’s Hanazono Dango (photo provided by Otaru Nikuraya)

 Hanazono Dango is being sold even today and is still using the same shop’s menu. Four bite size round mochi balls are pierced on a skewer, and adzuki bean paste or sugar soy-based sauce is then spread over the mochi. The appearance of Hanazono Dango is slightly unique in comparison to other skewered Dango you can see at other typical shops. Hanazono’s distinct characteristic is that is has the adzuki bean paste spread over the mochi forming a kind of mountain-like shape. Dango is made by only using rice grown within Japan and there is no sugar added, so you can experience the natural sweetness of the rice. At this original shop, you can purchase Hanazono Dango “To Go,” or order it to be enjoyed in the tea drinking space. In the tea drinking space, together with tea or coffee you can also enjoy “Dorayaki Soft Serve” and more.

Dorayaki Soft Serve (photo provided by Otaru Nikuraya)


Rokumi’s establishment

 Rokumi is a long-established Japanese Confectionary shop located within a residential area, and just about a 10-minute walk from Otaru Station. It opened up for business in 1931 as a mochi shop and sold sweets such as Daifuku and Dango. In the 1960’s, the second company president took over, and from that time the shop started to produce and sell Dorayaki and other Japanese Confectionary on a full-scale. In the late 1980’s the third company president took over the shop and from that time until now, the shop has also been selling Busse (a confectionary of jam sandwiched between two soft buns), and other Western Confectionary.

Rokumi’s “Tarudora” (photo provided by Rokumi)

 “Anko” that is made from Hokkaido grown adzuki beans, sugar, and Otaru’s great quality water kneaded together in a homemade manner has an especially good reputation, and quite a masterpiece with a smooth texture and a well-rounded sense of sweetness. The secret azuki bean paste recipe that has been made for generations from long ago, has continued to be loved by the local people for many years. You can have a taste of Rokumi’s azuki bean paste by eating “Daifuku,” “Dorayaki” or “Kintsuba.” Among Rokumi’s Dorayaki is a hallmark product being sold called, “Otaru Tarudora.” It’s made together with adzuki bean paste and mochi, sandwiched with Dorayaki. There is also an adzuki bean paste, mochi and Japanese chestnut variation as well.

Rokumi’s Kintsuba (photo provided by Rokumi)

 Kintsuba is a confectionary made by mixing adzuki bean paste with wheat flour and water to dissolve and then harden it into square shapes before baking. At Rokumi, aside from the adzuki flavor is an apple flavor made from apples grown in the local neighborhood. We recommend having both and comparing flavors.

Otaru Shogetsudo(小樽松月堂)

Otaru Shogetsudo’s establishment (photo provided by Otaru Shogetsudo)

 If you make your way from Otaru Station all the way through a shopping street called, “Sun Mall Ichibangai,” you will come across an impressive retro looking building just off to the right, which sells Japanese Confectionary. The shop was established in 1918 and was in business for many years in a different location of Otaru, and in 1983 the shop relocated to its current location. It’s said that the building was most likely built around the year 1915, and at that time was a Japanese Confectionary shop called “Sugimoto Kagetsudo.” Otaru Shogetsudo is a shop that was opened by a person who was trained by and used to work for “Sugimoto Kagetsudo” before going independent. As the story goes, the former “Sugimoto Kagetsudo” decided to withdrawal from this location creating a vacancy. It was at this time that the owner of Otaru Shogetsudo relocated into its current building.

Otaru Shogetsudo’s Nama Dorayaki (photo provided by Otaru Shogetsudo)

 When the shop was first established, it mainly produced raw Japanese Confectionary. These days, the shop produces and sells both Japanese and Western Confectionary. Its hallmark product is Dorayaki. The “Maron Dorayaki,” which is a kind of Dorayaki with a chestnut inside, appeared in the 1980’s and has been a best seller for many years. In the late 1990’s the shop took the essence of Western Confectionary, and created a product called, “Nama Dorayaki,” which is a kind of dorayaki with fresh cream and adzuki bean paste mixed together. Furthermore, the shop also developed a product called, “Shio Dorayaki,” which is made by mixing adzuki bean paste with fermented butter and salt extracted from deep sea waters. The Japanese-Western fusion Dorayaki and the Chestnut Dorayaki are both very popular.

Sawa no Tsuyu Honpo(澤の露本舗)

The first Sawa no Tsuyu Honpo is located near the entrance to the Hanazono Ginza Shopping District

 Sawa no Tsuyu Honpo is a long-established Japanese Confectionary store that specializes in selling only candy. It was set up near the entrance of the “Hanazono Ginza Shopping District” and can be seen just after passing through the “Sun Mall Ichibangai” shopping street. Although, the shop was temporarily closed for a few years during the Second World War, it was originally established in 1911 and since then, the shop has produced and sold only one type of candy. The shop has been selling the exact same type of candy since they first opened, called “Sawa no Tsuyu.” (Formerly called, “Suisho Amedama,” before being renamed) It’s a simple candy made without using any artificial additives or food coloring. It is simply made by mixing boiled down sugar with natural lemon flavoring. Its characteristics can be described as having a refreshingly sweet aftertaste and a smooth texture while not being sticky.

Sawa no Tsuyu

 According to the third generation shopkeeper, the shop was first able to produce and sell candy because of the First Sino-Japanese War (A war that took place in 1894 ~ 1895, between Japan and the Qing Dynasty, currently China). Also because of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance (the bilateral alliance that was tied between Britain and Japan in 1902).

 It is presumed that as a result of the alliance, sugar and natural flavorings became easy to get a hold of. In Japan in the 1800’s, sugarcane which produced sugar ingredients could only be collected in certain areas of Southern Japan, such as Okinawa. Beets, which can produce the same kind of sugar ingredients were not being cultivated yet. Because of that, sugar was considered a high-class item as the people had to rely solely on importation. After the First Sino-Japanese War, former Taiwan merged with Japan and sugar from Taiwan in large quantities started getting circulated in Japan making it more abundant and easier for people to have access to it. It is also said that through the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, Japan became able to import natural flavorings at a low price from Britain. Otaru also became able to have easy access to sugar and natural flavorings, which then lead to candy production and sales. This is a traditional candy made in a way that hasn’t changed for more than 100 years. For many people, the candy resembles a kind of cough drop. The popularity shows no signs of wavering, attracting many people visiting the shop to buy this single type of product.


 Kuwataya is a “Panjyu” shop located within Otaru’s sight-seeing area on the first floor of the “Otaru Canal Terminal.” The Otaru Canal Terminal was built in 1922 and was originally the Otaru branch of Mitsubishi Bank. The building is now being reused and is significant for its historical structure, and also quite popular for its retro atmosphere.

Kuwataya enters the Otaru Canal Terminal

 Panjyu is a kind of baked sweets consisting of a thin crispy wheat flour-based dough as an outer layer, with adzuki bean paste or other fillings tightly packed inside. Although there are various opinions on its origin, it is said that it was first created in Tokyo in the late 1900’s. After that, Ise in Mie Prefecture began spreading it to various regions throughout Japan. Otaru is one of the cities where it got rooted. As for the name, it’s said that around the year 1900, bread was quite a rare food in Japan and not many people were eating it around those days. “Manju” (which is a steamed Japanese Confectionary made of wheat flour kneaded into a dough as an outer layer with adzuki bean paste packed inside), sort of took on the same process in how bread is made. Instead of steaming, they began baking it like bread, which is where it got its name from.

Kuwataya’s Panjyu (photo provided by Kuwataya)

 It’s said that in the 1950’s there were around 16 Panjyu shops in Otaru.  For the people of Otaru, it was rooted as a convenient snack. However, year by year the shops began to close and by the end of the 1990’s there was only one left in the area. The current Kuwataya’s owner opened this establishment in the year 2000, with hopes to preserve the history of Panjyu in Otaru. The recipe was created by consulting with people connected with Otaru’s flour milling companies in order to try and recreate the original taste. Other than the original adzuki bean type, these days you can also have Panjyu filled with other ingredients such as cream, chocolate or salted cheese. We recommend trying and comparing a variety of types. They are bite sized, cone shaped and about 4cm tall and 3cm wide in size.


 Shofukuya is a shop located near Otaru Station that sells Panjyu and Baby Castella. The first shop was opened in 2007 within the long-established “Tanukikoji Shopping District” in Sapporo. The shop then moved to its current location in Otaru in 2014. Although the shop was opened in recent years, it has captured the distinct Panjyu history in its recipe.

Shofukuya’s Panjyu (photo provided by Shofukuya)

 In the 1950’s there was a very popular Panjyu shop called, “Amato Ichiban” (currently out of business). The shopkeeper was taught the baking techniques by what was said to formerly be the most delicious Panjyu shop in Otaru. The shopkeeper sold Panjyu within the Tanukikoji Shopping District in Sapporo, and after that, returned back to Otaru and opened up “Amato Ichiban.” The shop in the Tanukikoji Shopping District was left to the shopkeeper’s successor, who inherited the Panjyu recipe and continued selling the products until 1997.

This photo is thought to be the former Amato Ichiban Panjyu shop (photo provided by Shofukuya)

 In 2007, Shofukuya opened a Baby Castella shop in Sapporo and coincidentally, was in the same shop location that previously sold Panjyu until 1997. The landlord of the shop passed on the recipe and the original taste from years before, and the product was revived. The shop then started to produce and sell Panjyu as well. After that, Shofukuya relocated to Otaru, and coincidentally, the address of the new building was the exact same as the former Amato Ichiban. Although the name of the shop and the managers have changed over the years, the shop remains loved by the people of Otaru, selling the original taste from the old days. Panjyu is actually quite a minor type of Japanese Confectionary and can’t be found in some parts of Japan. However, in Otaru, Panjyu has become a Japanese Confectionary and has been loved by the local people for many years. If you ever take a trip to Otaru and make your way around the sweet shops, be sure not to exclude Panjyu.

Travel to Otaru, Hokkaido on your next trip

 Otaru is a tourist city with many places that have a history of supporting Hokkaido’s development. Along with many historical structures scattered throughout the city, there is also food culture remaining from long ago like Japanese Confectionary. When traveling to Otaru, we recommend not only visiting the standard sight-seeing areas like the Otaru Canal and areas commonly known as ‘the Northern Wall Street’ (including ‘the Otaru Bank District’ and ‘the Ironai Bank District’), but also making your way around the Japanese Confectionary shops. We would be happy if this article inspires you for your next trip. For anyone who is thinking to visit Hokkaido or Otaru, please don’t hesitate to contact our consultant team.

 We would be more than happy to help you design an itinerary to give you a memorable journey in Hokkaido. If you are interested in a tour, please have a look at our contact form and don’t hesitate to send us a message. We will help you create a plan for your journey in Hokkaido. You can always contact us through the ’contact us’ button below.