Japanese people have a sweet tooth and, lucky for us, there are all kinds of places where treats can be found. In this post, we’ll take a quick look at some of these spots and discover what kinds of delights are available.
1. Specialty Shop Treats To Go
Specialty stores, always located on the basement floor of major department stores, carry lots of baked goods. Strawberry shortcake, cheesecake, chocolate cake, and chestnut cake are the most popular. These can be a little pricey, but for the discerning sweet tooth, it is well worth it. Department stores like Isetan, Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi, Seibu, Tobu, Hankyu, and Hanshin have a terrific specialty stores!
These stores are usually divided into two sections: Japanese and European. In the Japanese section, you find favorites like 饅頭 manju (made of flour and sweet red bean paste), もなか monaka (sweet red bean paste in thin crispy wafer-like shell), ねりきり nerikiri (artisanal red bean cake), 煎餅 senbei (rice crackers), 団子 dango (mochi rice balls), and カステラ kasutera (Japanese pound cake). In the European section, you will find cakes (of course) as well chocolate truffles, macarons, and madeleines.
2. Specialty Shop Treats To Stay
Sweet shop are great places to enjoy your quarry on the premises. These shops are usually organized around a feature dessert — ice cream, crepes or cream puffs for example. In Tokyo, these shops are situated in tourist areas like Harajuku, Shibuya, Akihabara, Tokyo Tower, Sky Tree, and Shinjuku. Because these are busy areas, however, places to sit down are usually at a premium. As a result, you may wind up indulging on your feet.
If sitting down is important, you’ll improve your chances by visiting a traditional Japanese tea shop. These are usually not found in tourist hot spots. Once there, you can enjoy 抹茶 matcha green tea, 饅頭 manju (red bean cake), 団子 dango (mochi rice balls), お汁粉/ぜんざい oshiruko/zenzai (sweet red bean soup), あんみつ anmitsu (typically a bowl of agar agar jelly, red beans, sweet red bean paste, mochi rice balls, syrup). Nowadays, you can also find ‘contemporary’ green tea dessert shops which serve a matcha green tea sundae and matcha green tea cheesecake. Yum!
3. Gift Shop Sweet Treats
Finally, Japanese gift shops provide an opportunity to purchase something for a friend or loved one. These are usually found at airports, major train stations, hotels, and sightseeing locations. Gift shops often feature 饅頭 manju (red bean cake), chocolates, cookies, and sponge cakes.
These are perfect for お土産 omiyage (gift you give to your friends and neighbors when you come back from your trip) because they come gift-wrapped and often include special ingredients local to the area. For example, if you visit Hokkaido, famous for dairy farming, you find baked items made from the fresh local milk and cheese. If you visit Shizuoka, famous for green tea, you will find many green tea flavored baked items. They are usually pretty affordable too; a box of baked treats is usually priced around $10.
If you have a sweet tooth, definitely check out these places on your next trip to Japan. Keep in mind, however, there is one place where you generally cannot find a good selection of desserts, and that is in a restaurant; particularly in a traditional Japanese-style restaurant. Unlike in the U.S, Japanese restaurants often don’t have a dessert menu. When a Japanese restaurant does offer after-meal desserts, the options are usually basic and include a small scoop of ice cream or a fruit plate. If you’re a tourist who wants to indulge after a meal, visit a department store beforehand and stock your hotel mini-fridge.
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