One of the first Western-style confections to achieve fame, if not popularity, was biscuits. First recorded in 1842, these ‘biscuits’ were a far cry from what they are now, produced as hardtack and grudgingly incorporated into military rations. Threatened with the spectre of invasion from Western imperial forces, Egawa Tarozaemon (1801-1855), a military scholar, summoned a cook from Nagasaki to re-create the biscuits that had seemingly powered British military might in the Opium War.14 For Egawa, who envisioned guerrilla warfare, rice balls posed a danger because of the vapours that would be emitted when making them.15 Biscuits, however, held no such risks, and by the late 1860s, military leaders came to hold them in high regard.16 In 1868, Fugetsudo, the early pioneer of Western-style confectionary, delivered large quantities of black sesame-filled biscuits to the Satsuma clan.17 Only a decade later, in an ironic twist, the Imperial Army ordered an unprecedented amount ofbiscuits to help put down the rebellious Satsuma

  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16 17

Rath, ‘Japanese baked goods’, 374.

For a focus on sugar, however, placed in its imperial context, see Kushner, Sweetness. Adachi, Nihongata shokuseikatsu no rekishi, 189.

Ibid., 190.

Showa Joshi Daigaku, Kindai Nihon shokumotsushi, 10.


samurai during the country’s last civil war. More confectioners, sensing military demand, joined the bandwagon. Ten years after Fugetsudo purchased biscuit-making machinery from English makers Huntley and Palmer, Tsuboya began manufacturing biscuits en masse, having installed a steam-powered machine made in Liverpool.[1] When the Sino-Japanese War erupted, Fugetsudo was quick to respond to orders: it delivered 150 tonnes of biscuits in the first year of conflict, and 90 tonnes were dispatched during the second and last year of fighting.[2]

In truth, of course, soldiers preferred Japanese-style confectionary. They were brought up on rice cakes and resented the taste of the biscuits that formed part of their rations. Such reluctance would explain why biscuits failed to achieve a wider public before the turn of the century. Within the military context, however, biscuits were preferred because preserving rice cakes proved tricky. In an effort to surmount this problem, Fugetsudo tried to freeze them; a different confectioner experimented by placing them in cans[3]; neither attempt succeeded. In the case of canned rice cakes, moulds developed within a few weeks of delivery and had to be condemned. It was no wonder, then, that biscuits continued to enjoy favour, recording spectacular increases in production as a result of demand created by the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Despite attempts by Japanese- style confectioners such as Toraya to muscle in on increased imperial demand, the Ministry of War (Rikugunsho) had difficulty accepting Japanese-style confectionary.[4] Western-style confectionary appeared to play, at least technically, a more useful role than the indigenous offering, which struggled to prove its worth in changing imperial times.[5]

There is little doubt that the imperial context threw up questions about the difference between sweets in Japan and the West, sensitizing observers to the role played by the ingredients. Notwithstanding the shared use of sugar, Western-style and Japanese-style sweets seemed to differ because the latter relies typically on plant ingredients while the former owes much more to animal-derived ones. Milk and eggs are central to Western confectionary while azuki red beans, agar-agar and rice flour dominate the making of Japanese confectionary. At the end of the nineteenth century, medical men trained in Western science fastened on to this difference. They declared that the choice of ingredients was no simple matter: it had grave consequences for the health of the population. In 1890, Tsuboi Jiro (1863-1903), Associate Professor of Hygiene at the Imperial University (Teikoku Daigaku) in Tokyo, took to task indigenous confections - the term wagashi was not yet used - for their harmful impact on the body.[6] Through a nutritional lens, Tsuboi focused on confectioners’ excessive use of sweet red beans. Both red beans and sugar did not, he pointed out, lack nutrients: they contained a certain amount of protein. Only when these otherwise healthy ingredients were transformed into products such as manju did the nutritional values plummet.[7] Typically, azuki would be cooked, sweetened and turned into a paste (anko), which would end up as filling in a wide variety of sweets. Yet the problem with this method of preparation, Tsuboi pointed out, was that it led to a significant reduction in the amount of protein while it resulted in an inadvertent increase in the amount of sugar. Sweets makers should, he urged, merely increase the amount of azuki and hold back on the amount of sugar. Given the preference for all things sweet among purchasers, he dimly predicted, a change in mind-set among makers would be hard to implement.[8]

During this period, physicians agitated for the reconceptualization of sweets in chemical terms. Soon after Tsuboi’s intervention, Mikamo Kotaro, a medical practitioner in Numazu, stressed the importance of evaluating the worth of confections based on their nutritional content.[9] Most important, he argued, were the ‘interior components’ (naiteki-kosei) of them; less important were attributes such as taste and beauty. Shape, colour or scent - characteristics that marked out wagashi - were unreliable markers of sweets’ true self. Traditional confectioners felt the heat of this growing medical discourse. At the Fourth Domestic Industrial Exposition, held in Kyoto in 1895, they protested against the nutritional view expressed by Tsuboi who presided as judge. Taniguchi Heizaburo criticized the professor for deliberately prioritizing the scientific properties of sweets to the detriment of all other attributes.[10] For Tsuboi, there was little worth in the artistic exhibits that Kyoto makers presented because they served no apparent purpose. Due to the emphasis on appearance, colouring was used to excess, putting off potential eaters.[11] Sweets’ impact on health, he reminded confectioners, should be a central concern of makers but was not.[6] Such early medical re-appraisals of sweets were powerful, serving as the basis on which modern dietary practices were later recommended to families. Continuing to eat sweets like yokan[13]'0 could, a magazine warned in 1907, adversely affect children’s digestion and lead to chronic stomach and bowel problems.[14] In 1912, Nagai Iwao, a paediatrician, strictly advised mothers to avoid sweets that contained azuki and sugar.[15] In 1913, a food education journal called on sweets makers to use tsubnan[16] instead of koshian in their products because of the nutritional benefits of the former.[17] Others suggested that jam or milk should be used as replacements.[18] Far better than seek reforms to wagashi, so the general paediatric consensus went, was to choose yogashi. Mothers were encouraged, for example, to feed their infants raisins, wafers, biscuits and choco- lates.[19] Eating Western-style confections was better for digestion and for general health. A biomedical focus on the chemical components of sweets helped further re-cast Japanese-style confections in negative terms.

One major feature ofyogashi, ever since military demand precipitated the mass production of biscuits, was the use of machines. Imported from advanced Western countries, machines impressed with their sophistication, scale and productivity. These aspects were a far cry from the making of wagashi. Following the Iwakura Mission’s visit to Menier’s Parisian factory in 1873, which manufactured 4,000 tonnes of chocolate a year, the connection between yogashi and machines became inseparable.[20] When Fugetsudo installed large machinery to manufacture ‘what are called biscuits’ in order to deliver ‘nutritious confectionary’ for the navy in 1881, the Tokyo Illustrated Newspaper took note.[21] Reports from abroad confirmed how machines were central to the making of sweets. ‘In the United States’, a correspondent for a children’s magazine declared, ‘candy manufacturers invent machines at the same time as thinking about the product’.[22] Rather than rely on manual labour, which had limitations with regard to power, machines could do more. For this to happen vast amounts of capital had to be invested to set up factories capable of producing sweets in large quantities. Pointing to Western examples, the Asahi Shimbun remarked with interest that confectionary companies were becoming highly specialized, suggesting that Japanese confectioners should move in this direction, too.[23] In Britain, Huntley and Palmer concentrated on the production of biscuits alone, employing 7,000 workers — numbers enough to fill a small town. Only Morinaga, who had taken over from Fugetsudo as the pioneers of Western-style confectionary during the early twentieth century, came close to replicating the kind ofscale that European and American confectioners had achieved. In 1915, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on a tour of the company’s Tokyo manufacturing facility in Tamachi.[24] Profoundly impressed by the scale of production, the newspaper took particular liking to the ‘large devices’ in action, noting how work was evenly distributed between machines and humans. Such scenes were a world away, it was intimated, from those that took place at wagashi makers around the corner whose insistence on the use of hands appeared embarrassingly out of date.

For the increasing numbers who visited Morinaga’s factories, the exacting levels of cleanliness were equally a sight to behold. In 1906, a correspondent for the confectionary trade magazine Kashi Shimpo went to Akasaka to see what all the fuss was about. On the tour of the ‘factory’, the correspondent was struck by the amount of hygienic care. Prior to setting foot in the factory, everybody had to wash their hands. Once inside, he marvelled, the place resembled a hospital. Female workers wore white clothes and donned white caps, looking more like nurses. Even their hands were covered as these workers, looking as though they were standing at an operating table, proceeded to wrap up chocolate cream in almost surgical fashion.[25] Such cleanliness, an image yogashi makers were keen to foster, contrasted starkly with levels of hygiene encountered among wagashi makers. One of the worst culprits were makers of cheap Japanese sweets (dagashi) that were sold in small corner shops (dagashi-ya); more respectable makers, as this chapter will later show, could also be implicated. In 1900, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the small makers clustered around Rukangawa-cho in the Kanda district of Tokyo.[26] Many of these makers operated in cramped and stinking working conditions, and it was not uncommon to witness ‘craftsmen using dirty hands kneading flour’.[3] By the time sweets, which had been readied for shipment in the morning, were delivered to shops, they had already turned stale. In 1928, the police took 37 dagashiya to court; the following year it investigated 600 wholesalers/makers, discovering that the majority fell short of acceptable hygienic standards.[28] Problems of hygiene also bedevilled reputable wagashi makers. In 1934, following food scares, the police invaded the kitchens of 20 traditional wagashi makers in Ginza and announced that just one had passed hygiene tests.[29] Yogashi manufacturers were rarely implicated, and Morinaga’s reputation rose to starry heights until the powdered milk poisoning scandal of 1955.

In 1913, the owner of Fugetsudo in the Kanda district boasted that his factory had switched from using coal to gas, which prevented the accumulation of soot and dust.[30] Even though initial investment in gas was not insubstantial, he remarked, it rendered the manufacturing environment clean and hygienic, with one additional advantage: gas took up less space, freeing areas that had been occupied by stockpiles of coal.[31] By this time, Fugetsudo was no longer the leading maker of yogashi; Morinaga had taken over this mantle, achieving scales that Fugetsudo found difficult to match. Yet the impression that Western-style confectionary was large- scale, mechanical and useful was undoubtedly forged at a time when Fugetsudo was the foremost pioneer. Military demand from imperial wars was crucial to the construction of this image; but it was arguably medical men trained in the Western tradition who helped extend discussions of the difference between Japanese-style and Western-style sweets into a more domestic and civilian setting. By revealing the inner nature of sweets through a chemical and nutritional lens, they forced broader society to consider the impact of sweets on health. Practices such as bringing sweets for the sick - confections placed alongside pillows were a common sight - were to be abhorred. Pointing out the damage sweets caused to digestion, Tsuboi warned that recovery could be severely set back because of this custom.[32] Compared to alcohol, sweets caused less nuisance but in terms of the ‘damage wrought on health, sweets are equally out of the question’.[6] More needed to be done at the level of production, it was argued, to effect a shift away from appearance, which was deceptive anyway, to a focus on nutrition. More than any other manufacturer, Morinaga was arguably the most receptive to this medical discourse, creating a factory that resembled a hospital rather than a workshop, adding a hygienic component to the image ofyogashi as advanced and useful. The image of wagashi suffered as a result, appearing to be not only backward but also dirty and harmful for the body.

  • [1] Ikeda, Nihon ydgashishi, 538-9.
  • [2] Showa Joshi Daigaku, Shokumotsushi, 163.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Toraya, Toraya no go seiki, 91.
  • [5] For the success of canned beef in the military, see Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 64-65.
  • [6] Anonymous, ‘Nihon no kashi’, 536.
  • [7] Tsuboi, ‘Kashi no setsu’, 8.
  • [8] Anonymous, ‘Kashi no hanashi’, 17-21.
  • [9] Mikamo, ‘Kashi ni tsuite’, 46-49.
  • [10] Taniguchi, ‘Kashi shinsa no hoshin ni tsuite’, 14.
  • [11] Ibid., 16.
  • [12] Anonymous, ‘Nihon no kashi’, 536.
  • [13] Thick, jellied sweet made from red bean paste, agar and sugar.
  • [14] Anonymous, ‘Kashi to shoni byo’, 32.
  • [15] Nagai, Ikuji no shiori, 172.
  • [16] Tsubuan are whole read beans boiled with sugar as opposed to koshian which have had theirskins removed and passed through a sieve.
  • [17] Murai, ‘Okashi no zenaku’, 52.
  • [18] Kashi Shimpo, April 14, 1907, 1.
  • [19] Nagai, Ikuji no shiori, 169.
  • [20] Mitsuda, ‘From reception to acceptance’, 180.
  • [21] Quoted in Kobayashi, Kashi 30-nen shi, 93.
  • [22] Mori, ‘Beikoku no kashi’, 4.
  • [23] Anonymous, ‘Kashi kai zatsuwa’, 7.
  • [24] Anonymous, ‘Kojo meguri 1’, 5.
  • [25] Anonymous, ‘Morinaga shoten 2’, 5.
  • [26] Annonymous, ‘Dagashiya wa fuketsu’, 4.
  • [27] Ibid.
  • [28] Asahi Shimbun, April 5, 1928, Evening edition, 2.
  • [29] Asahi Shimbun, February 22, 1924.
  • [30] Fugetsudo, ‘Watashi no mise’, 18-19.
  • [31] Ibid.
  • [32] Tsuboi, ‘Kashi no setsu’, 9.
  • [33] Anonymous, ‘Nihon no kashi’, 536.
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