Japan Travel in the Know: Hokkaido Is the Kingdom of Bread

A lot of raclette cheese is poured on an open sandwich.

Many good bakeries in Hokkaido

“How old are you?” “How old do I look?” Humans have made progress and finally landed on the Moon in 1969, but we still continue to return another stupid question to a stupid question as above. When are we matured enough? Is this only in Japan? There are still more stupid questions very often made between Japanese people including me like “Are you a cat person or a dog person?” “Which do you prefer for breakfast, bread or rice?”

As some people may be surprised to hear the last question, Japan is not a rice country any more. Now, the annual purchase volume of bread and rice becomes roughly even. Especially among other prefectures, our hometown Hokkaido is famous for bread because here is the kingdom of the agricultural (wheat) and dairy (milk) industries in Japan. There are many well-known bakeries, and one of the major groups is bakeries opened by bakers breaking away from Maison Kayser. By the way, you know Maison Kayser, don’t you? It’s a French leading bakery group established by the genius baker, Eric Kayser. If you want to pretend to know a lot about Japanese bread, just say “Is it Kayser-ish?” and you can make yourself stand out even in Hokkaido.

Bread has evolved in a unique way in Japan

It is in 1543 that bread was introduced from Portugal to Japan, together with firearms, and bread has evolved independently from the Western way where it was originated from. Let me introduce the Japanese bread culture with some concrete examples. I believe the bread most featuring the Japanese culture would be “An-pan,” bread filled with sweet bean paste. It is the basic and ultimate style of Japanese bread. If you don’t know what to choose, An-pan is always a safe bet. Because of this absolute choice, many Japanese people come to believe it’s a default for all the bread to be filled with something, and we are sometimes even surprised if there’s nothing in it.

Another Japanese bread I’d like to introduce is “Fried-noodle bread.” As the name suggests, fried noodle is just put in the slit of a partially sliced bun. I know it wouldn’t make sense to most of people outside Japan, and French people might be pissed off, but it’s the standard choice especially for Japanese teenagers. The young people may need such a collaboration of carbohydrate substances. As I wrote before, we Japanese people are good at adopting foreign cultures and individualizing them. Some of Japanese bread may not look very attractive at first glance, but I want you to try them when you visit Hokkaido.

Boulangerie in The Windsor Hotel

As I wrote above, there are some “Kayser-ish” bakeries in Hokkaido. The one I’d like to recommend today is “Boulangerie Windsor.” It’s located in The Windsor Hotel in Toya. The bread and bakery themselves are great, and in addition, the hotel is really worth visiting. It’s a huge gorgeous hotel on top of a mountain where you can see Yoteizan (Hokkaido Fuji mountain) in the north, Toya lake in the east, and the sea in the west. I think it is a tragic hotel: planned and built while Japan enjoyed the bubble economy; opened in 1993 just after the bubble burst. The climax of the hotel came in 2008, when the G8 summit was held and world leaders assembled there. Now, you can feel and enjoy the remnant of the past glory days in the hotel. For your information, we made the long table used in the summit. The table itself is no longer in the hotel but exhibited in a museum neat the hotel, though.

Photo credit: https://www.windsor-hotels.co.jp/ja/blog/toya_bread/

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Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.