Pastries in Japan: a Fusion of East and West

The bakery market in Japan is rich in a variety of products, textures, shapes, and colors. Large industrial bakeries are launching new products on a weekly basis, which may look a bit overwhelming to a Westerner. Nevertheless, large bakers from Western countries have been embracing a similar approach to the business, recently. The pace of Japanese innovation, however, it truly unique. Japanese bakery manufacturers still surprise their consumers with new pastries and other baked goods almost daily; because it comes naturally to them. It is how they have always done their work.

What makes the Japanese pastry market exciting is a combination of two coexisting cultures. On the one hand, the market is filled with crunchy pies with fruit filling, and other popular European pastries. On the other, consumers can indulge in traditional pastry. The approach to packaging designs is similar for both.

Traditional Pastry – Wagashi

Wagashi is the common name for traditional Japanese desserts. They are mostly made of mochi (dough made of sticky rice) and anko (red bean paste), and finished by steaming or cooking.

Early European travelers brought baked dough made from wheat flour to Japan. In the beginning, these type of bakery products were made for foreigners looking for familiar tastes. Later, many Japanese consumers adopted the tastes and textures of baked pastries, too. Yatsuhashi, teriyaki and monaka are traditional pastries, but also examples of the best of both worlds.

Yatsuhashi is a product characteristic for Kyoto. Usually, it has mochi’s soft texture, but it also can be prepared by baking, which makes the taste crunchy. It has a recognizable triangular shape and is made of flour, sugar and cinnamon. Yatsuhashi comes in different colors, depending on added flavors. For instance, it is almost black combined with sesame, and with matcha, it’s green. While unbaked, yatsuhashies are delicate and packaged in strong boxes covered with transparent protective plastic. They are a popular edible souvenir. You can choose from all kinds of graphics, from traditional illustration and textures to Pikachu branded boxes. After all, the city is also famous for Nintendo.

Taiyaki and monaka have a similar texture, similar to an ice cream cone or wafer. They are made of common pancake or waffle batter, baked in special molds. Taiyaki has a specific fish shape and can be bought from street vendors. The traditional Japanese variety is commonly filled with azuki paste, but it also comes in other fillings, for every taste.

Monaka has also a crispy outer shell with different fillings, and features different shapes, like flowers and kawaii animals. The possibilities are endless and can be very complicated in texture, depending on the design. Two examples of design are illustrated here, based on cartoon characters with strong colors, but even those playful creations can be sold as premium products. Some have transparent bags with single-colored letters and simple line illustrations, or monochrome bags with golden letters.

Some of Japan’s bakers nurture traditional bakery styles. Others also embrace Western styles of baking, and are customizing them to local tastes. Innovation is one of the core characteristics of Japanese manufacturers in all industries. Japanese pastry makers, whether industrial or artisanal, are doing the same thing – offering consumers constantly growing portfolios of pies and tarts.

Pies and Pastries

Japanese consumers love pies and tarts. Pies made with nashi pears or flavorful peaches are especially popular in summer. Some also enjoy more chocolatey, creamy fillings. It is also not unusual to see free-of-filling pies; called genji pies, they are quite popular, made of “thousand layers” of dough.

One of the manufacturers of genji pies is the privately owned Sanritsu Confectionery Co. The company was established in 1921 and produces packaged baked products and snacks like biscuits, crackers, and pretzels. The company has a range of prepackaged pies that can be bought together in Assorted Pie bags. Two popular choices are the Sanritsu Genji Pie and the Sanritsu Heike Pie. Genji pies are packaged in small boxes in twos, and several larger volumes, like transparent bags with 28 pieces. The larger packages contain separately wrapped pies, making them great for storing for longer while still remaining fresh when opened.

Every flavor has a different shape, which makes them easy to recognize and visually appealing while served together. While Sanritsu Genji Pie is heart-shaped, Sanritsu Heike Pie is shaped like a pillow and decorated with a few raisins at the top. The latest addition to the range are coconut flavor pies.

The Fujiya is one of the most popular confectionery brands in Japan. The company established in Yokohama in 1910 has numerous restaurants and confectionery stores easily recognizable by its mascot. Peko-chan is a marketing icon, a girl with pigtails and chubby cheeks, with her tongue sticking out. The company offers a range of Fujiya Home Pies in different flavors and colors. The main design element is the brand name, built with yellow and white elements, and placed on a red elliptical shape. Fujiya Apple Pie is among the premium products, being made on demand and packaged fresh in cardboard boxes.

Chocolate pies are not common in Western markets, despite the fact that chocolate croissants and other filled pastries are. In Japan, chocolate is just one of the typical fillings for pies and many manufacturers have them in their product portfolios. The Lotte offers mini pies packaged in cardboard boxes – Lotte Pie No Mi. Those mini pies are in fact small puff pastry pieces filled with different creams, including chocolate. The design of the whole series is joyful and pleasant, suggesting a small world full of cute animals and plants.

By comparison, the Nissin Crispy Choco Pie has a completely different shape and texture. It is packaged as a sliced pie, and each piece is placed in a protective mold. Contrary to what its name suggests, its texture resembles crunchy cakes, and it comes in many other flavors aside from chocolate, including cheesecake, matcha and strawberry. This “pie” is packaged in cardboard boxes similar to those used to deliver pizza. The name of the product covers the bottom half of the packaging, while the top part is where they bring the illustration to life, by applying large cartoon eyes and a speech bubble.

Furuta Confectionery Co. is a leading chocolate supplier in Japan. Founded in 1952, the company is making a range of packaged pies, among other sweets and biscuits. Their pies are made with different fruity flavors, such as apple, cinnamon or lemon – which is the newest addition, launched just in time to evoke summer refreshments. All flavors are represented with characteristic colors: red and brown for apple and cinnamon, the cold season flavors, while lemon has a light, fresh combination of sky blue and shades of yellow.

Yamazaki Baking introduced a series of premium pastries under the name Oishii Kashipan. The range consists of sweet and savory pastry and roll varieties. The “melon croissant” is a great example of Eastern and Western bakery fusion. Other sweet varieties are Pony Merry (in elongated shape filled with Hokkaido cream), honey roll, and danish. The chosen colors for these pastries are royal blue and gold, an excellent choice to help emphasize the premium character of this range. The whole line is packaged in the same manner, yet the products are easily recognizable, thanks to the transparent front and different shapes of pouches. The additional smart touch is their colored background – they literally placed their product on a golden background, rendering them as exclusive as possible.

Japan was first to introduce small packages of pastry and other baked goods. They have a tradition in wrapping food with care and respect. The same idea is translated into the food industry, and consequently in the packaging of pastries. Larger quantities are packaged twice: once in the big bag, and once more, individually or as a proposed portion. By doing so, they show respect to food, while also making it more desirable and valuable. In Japan, a humble pie can become a premium product, and pastry is regarded as an indulgence, not a convenient food to bite on the run.

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