At a time when pillowy cheesecakes and sweet rolls dominate social media, it’s hard to imagine that Japanese bakeries were slow to gain popularity in Hawaii. Shaped by contact with the West and a focus on beloved local flavors, these shops are now some of the most influential in the local culinary scene. Here’s a brief look at the fascinating history of how Japan came to embrace bread products and share their baking style with the world.
The Early History of Bread in Japan
Before the mid-1500s, the Japanese people cultivated and consumed rice instead of wheat. As a result, they were unfamiliar with European-style bread. The Portuguese missionaries traveled the country, spreading their message and Western baked goods. In fact, the Japanese word for bread—pan—is derived from Portuguese. Initially, the Japanese were not fond of European bread, deeming it too hard and dense.
The First Japanese Bakery
It wasn’t until 1869 when the first bakery opened that bread was eaten more regularly. Bakers refined the texture until it was light and airy—more comparable to familiar rice dishes. The first anpan was made in the 1870s by a former samurai who needed to find a trade after the dissolution of the samurai class. He filled soft dough with sweet bean paste and sold the resulting buns as snacks. People couldn’t get enough of the bread treats and began experimenting with their own sweet and savory fillings.
The Increasing Popularity of Bakeries
Bread cemented its place in Japanese food culture shortly after the development of shokupan, a square loaf commonly used to make sandwiches. This slightly sweetened bread made with milk became a mainstay after World War II and is still sold across Japan today. As the demand for bread increased, so did the number of Japanese bakeries. There are currently over 10,000 bakeries in Japan selling everything from classics like anpan to pastries and cakes. While rice is still seen as a dietary staple, spending on bread products has steadily increased as people seek out indulgent new treats for snacks and special occasions.
Want to experience an authentic Japanese bakery without having to apply for a passport? Brug Bakery has honored the baking techniques and traditions of Japan since opening in Sapporo, Hokkaido in 1977. With convenient locations across 5 locations across 4 shopping malls – Ala Moana, Pealridge, Kahala, Manoa Marketplace - their wide array of baked treats offers something for all tastes. Learn more about their mouthwatering selection of breads online or on Facebook. You can also inquire about the day’s available products by calling (808) 489-9219.