The Introduction of Bread into Japan, Its Historical Trajectory and Implications in Modernizing Projects

Wheat farmers in Japan, whom I have met through my research, constantly feel the need to remind me that wheat cultivation, coming in through China, existed in Japan for a long time historically, as wheat was and continues to be used in noodles, manju[1] and wheat dango (dumplings), and eaten in addition to barley and other millets. Some theories state that wheat flour had been used as early as the Nara period (710-784), but declined in the Heian period (794-1185) due to a lack of grinding stones, among other reasons; moreover, records indicate that wheat cultivation gained traction in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when farmers often grew wheat on paddy land during the dry, drained paddy season after the rice had been harvested.[2]

While people in Japan consumed noodles and other wheat products, the history of bread is considerably more recent.[3]

Early consumption of bread involved Portuguese traders and Christian missionaries coming to Japan. Even the word for bread pan in Japanese has its roots in this period in the sixteenth century, as pan comes from the Portuguese term for bread, pao.[4] The first ship carrying Portuguese traders to Japan was a Chinese ship that was blown off-course, arriving on Tanegashima Island (Kagoshima Prefecture) in 1543. Portuguese and Spanish missionaries introduced Christianity to the country in 1549, when Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier established Japan’s first mission at Kagoshima. Christian missionaries played a role in spreading bread consumption from 1549 until the early 1600s through the ritual of the Eucharist. It was also during the 1600s that biscuits were being mass-produced in Nagasaki and shipped to Luzon (the Philippines). Spanish noble Rodrigo de Vivero, interim governor of the Philippines in 1608-1609, noted that while bread was not an everyday food in Japan during that time, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the bread made in Edo was the best in the world. However, daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi began prohibiting Christianity and persecuting Christians in 1612, driving bread production down. This led into a period of national isolation, sakoku, starting from trade restrictions from the early seventeenth century, followed by edicts issued by Tokugawa Iemitsu from 1633 to 1639, until the arrival of Commodore Perry’s ships in 1853. Yet, even during the sakoku period, commerce continued in Nagasaki where there was limited trade and interaction with China and the Dutch - and bakers in Dejima (an artificial island used as a Dutch trading outpost) still maintained a market of selling bread to Dutch residents.[5]

In 1842, Egawa Hidetatsu Tarozaemon, daikan (local intendant) of the Tokugawa bakufu (shogun-headed military government), who is known for constructing the reverbatory furnace for making canons, built a baking oven on his estate grounds in Nirayama City, Shizuoka. (The oven still exists to this day, roughly speaking an iron pan and wooden lid over a stone chamber for the fire.) After witnessing portable rations distributed by Western armies, Egawa decided to experiment with hardtack kanpan, shelf-stable, portable bread for use as field rations. His legendary innovative genius led him to bake bread from techniques he learned from a man named Sakutaro, summoned to Tokyo to help with baking. Sakutaro worked in food preparation at a Dutch estate in Nagasaki and had learned the craft of making bread. In 1953, the Japan Bread Association (Zenkoku pan kyokai) designated Egawa as panso ‘Forefather of Bread’ and erected a monument in his estate to commemorate his achievements.[6] The original furnace for baking still graces the Egawa estate, the entirety of which is designated as an Important Cultural Property.[7] While monuments and cultural heritage designations reify aspects of nationhood, modernization is at play here, coded through such temporal terms as ‘ahead of one’s time’ or ‘forwardthinking’, terms tour guides and printed literature assign to Egawa. Festivals held at the estate can be read not only as a means to promote the city but also to reclaim a narrative of modernization through the introduction of bread culture, and an effort to advance this narrative across Japan through drawing students to participate in the festival’s national baking competition.[8]

Commodore Perry and his United States Navy forces arrived in Japan in 1853 and forced open trade in 1854 after Japan’s period of isolation. Yokohama, a port town with many foreigners, then became a site where bread baking flourished. In 1860, Utsumi Heikichi received instructions on baking from the cook of the French warship Dordogne and used Japanese wheat to bake what was described as a baked ‘wheat dumplinglike’ bread. He opened a bakery that soldgenkotsupan (fist-sized rolls).


In 1861, Jose Francisco from Portugal opened a bakery in the 126th section of the foreigner residential ward, while another baker George W. Goodman from America also opened up shop in the same year using imported wheat for his breads. Goodman’s shop burned down that November and he reopened two years later, calling his shop: Yokohama’s First European-style Bakery.[9] Another example of an early bakery is Yokohama Bakery established by British baker Robert Clarke in 1862. In 1888, Yokohama Bakery employee Uchiki Hikotaro took over the business and the website of Uchiki Pan calls Clarke the forefather of shokupan (popular bread loaf for slicing).[10] In 1865, Edward Kirby arrived in Yokohama and was the first person to import a bread oven to Japan to open a bakery.[11]

In 1868, Kobe’s port opened to outsiders, and shortly thereafter, Osaka, Tsukiji and Niigata also opened to foreigners. Since then, Kobe’s bread industry grew rapidly because of trade volumes and the demands of the foreign settlement.[12] Nearby Kyoto residents also quickly became familiar with bread, their tastes for novelty shaping the rise of bread consumption and culture in the city.[13] Hotels serving bread near ports and foreign residences from the 1860s onwards also contributed to the propagation of bread.[14]

In 1869, Buneido Bakery was first established in what is now Shimbashi, then moved to Ginza, Tokyo and was renamed Kimuraya in 1870. In 1875, Kimuraya developed the anpan (bun filled with red bean). Kimuraya’s anpan made with sake yeast dough accented with a salt- pickled cherry blossom was presented to the Meiji emperor on April 4, 1875 during a cherry blossom viewing occasion at the Mito domain villa (now Mukojima, Tokyo). Here, too, is another example of bread being raised to a national level, offered to the emperor, to be ingested by a figure who is a salient symbol, ‘Manifest Deity’ of Japan. This proffering is especially momentous considering Kosaku Yoshino’s argument that, as a kind of primary nationalism, the Meiji elites established the tradition of the emperor as rooted in Shintoism and familialism for the construction of a constituted centre as a touchstone for national identity.[15]

As a kind of taking in of a constructed notion of the ‘Other’ since its inception, bread also has links to historical endeavours of modernization and conceptualizations of advancement and progress. This is especially so in modern Japan, at the end ofEdo period, as in the case ofEgawa’s legacy and the opening of the ports; and more acutely at the start of the Meiji era (1868-1912), when the adoption of Western customs was considered a mark of progress and refinement. Katarzyna Cwiertka writes that in the making of strong bodies for war, bread was taken into consideration as a robust food needed for a stalwart-bodied army. Takagi Kanehiro, who directed the Tokyo naval hospital, experimented with bread in 1884 as part of a move towards a more Western diet to fight the debilitating disease of beri beri (now associated with Vitamin B1 deficiency). Takagi regarded beri beri as an Asian disease that did not much afflict Western bodies, and suspected nutritional deficiencies in the navy provisions as the culprit. In his assessment, he drew comparisons between Japan and the West, and aimed to incorporate what he considered a nutritiously superior Western diet that included bread to boost the navy’s might.[16]

Bread making was also implicated in other aspects of war, such as its proliferation in the Bando prisoner-of-war camp. In 1897, Germans and Austro-Hungarians took over the harbour town of Tsingtao (Qingdao) on the Shandong peninsula in China. In August 1914, during the Taisho era (1912-1926) and at the beginning of World War I (WWI), Japanese forces seized Tsingtao. Those Germans and Austro-Hungarians living in Tsingtao were moved and interned in the Bando POW camp in Naruto, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku Island as prisoners of war. These (mainly) Germans baked bread at a bakery in what is considered a recreated German village. Photos from the time show the bakery which had a wooden signboard shaped like a pretzel and bags of flour piled on a wooden table.[17]

Also during the Taisho and early Showa eras, more and more bakeries were cropping up, as yeast varieties similar to ones used today were being used at the time. Shinise (long-standing shops) from the Taisho era include Tokyo stores Taisho Seipan Sho bakery (1919~) and Setapan (1923~), among many others. In Kobe, 1918 rice riots contributed to bread’s popularity for breakfast. The rice riots also spurred the founding of Shikishima Baking Co. Ltd (PASCO) in 1919 in Nagoya, now a large baking manufacturer whose bread can be seen in supermarkets and convenience stores.

The Kanto Earthquake and resultant fire wiped out the majority of bakeries in the T okyo area, many of which were speedily rebuilt thereafter. It was also after WWI in the twentieth century when American-style sweet breads, German bread ovens and industrial yeast became more widely propagated. WWII also affected bakeries: the Tokyo Air Raid devastated many bakeries such as Uchiki Pan, which had to be rebuilt. Through large-scale production and consumption, kanpan (hardtack) had become widely known by 1944 and was used not only in the military as a staple for several decades but was also advertised to the public using patriotic texts and imagery - overt forms of nationalism taken into soldiers’ and everyday civilians’ bodies alike.[18]

In terms of the wider diffusion of bread consumption in Japan, many of my informants discuss the post-war era, where changes in taste were fuelled by food aid from America during a time of food crisis in Japan. At a time when malnutrition and black markets for food were rampant, American occupation forces instituted a school lunch programme in 1947 to provide for schoolchildren’s nourishment. Former supplies of the Japanese army and American donations comprised the bulk of the food.[19] From 1950, school lunches included bread such as koppe pan (sweet rolls) and agepan (fried bread), made from American surplus wheat. Powdered milk also accompanied bread. In 1976, the Japanese government pushed for greater inclusion of rice in school lunches in part to accommodate Japan’s rice surplus and also as a response to the declining consumption of rice.[20] The sense of nostalgia (a mix of fondness and ruefulness) regarding these school lunches with bread can be seen in my encounters in Japan. While sitting at a small, cozy kappo ryoriya (a small restaurant/bar where the owner cooks and serves Japanese-style food from behind a counter), I spoke with a middle-aged couple that happened to sit down next to me at the counter. Among many topics, we also talked about bread consumption. The couple reminisced about Showa school lunches and insisted that bread at that time was made of flour of low quality coming from America as food aid and the milk that was provided with the lunch could be barely called milk but rather dasshi funnyu (powdered non-fat milk). This subject seemed never to fail to trigger looks of revulsion and a chorus of disgust among the couple and other customers who joined in the conversation. The couple ate this bread as children, but could not bear to drink what they considered an inferior milklike liquid.[21]

Incidentally, during this dinner another customer came barrelling through the door (as it was raining, there was a bit of a commotion with umbrellas) to deliver homemade shokupan to the kappo ryoriya restaurant owner. This customer is a local bread purveyor: she bakes, sells and delivers bread in the neighbourhood, though she insists that she does not go as far as calling herself a baker (panyasan), which may imply owning a bakery storefront. These everyday encounters illustrate the ubiquity of bread in Japan, found in supermarkets, convenience stores, bakeries and even hand-delivered by local, informal networks of bread purveyors.

  • [1] Manju is a confection with the outside made in part of flour and the inside usually filled withred bean paste.
  • [2] Ito, ‘Japan’s Use of Flour’.
  • [3] While Nagao Seiichi argues that there is increasing variety of bread in Japan, including breadthat is arranged for Japanese tastes, he also warns against forgetting that bread’s history in Japan isshallow and that there are many [people in Japan] who are learning from people that have beeneating breads for some thousands of years. Nagao, ‘Pan wa naze’, 4-5. Foods like okonomiyaki(shredded cabbage pancakes) and takoyaki (balls of pan-cooked batter filled with diced octopus)are also made of wheat.
  • [4] Such Portuguese influence on food in Japan today persists in other Japanese words like tempura(battered and fried seafood and vegetables) and kasutera (soft cake, derived from pao de Castela inPortuguese). Pan (bread) is written in the katakana loanword alphabet. Bread is sometimes referred toas bureddo from the English word bread or much less frequently in writing using the Chinese-derivedkanji characters [with a few variations of the characters, pronounced pan (or maybe even menpo using the Japanese version of the Chinese pronunciation), but on the rare occasion that it is used, theword is usually not deployed orally but written in print somewhere], as it was more widely used in theMeiji era. Prior to that, in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1600), bread was at first referred toas (pronouncedpan), mushi mochi, mugi mochi and mugi dango. Kamura, Nagasaki Chdnin shi, 253. (Regarding etymology, some other sources contend that the word pan(also) derives from the French word pain propagated later in the Meiji period. On bread derivingfrom the French word pain, see: Munakata, Yokohama, 118.) On the more widely accepted notion ofpan deriving from Portuguese pao, see: Shibata, Nihon no pan, 3.
  • [5] On missionaries, see: Cortazzi, ‘The Foreigner in Japan’, 276-278; Cooper, Michael. TheyCame to Japan, ix. On Christian persecution, see: Gordon, A Modern History of Japan, 3-4. Onprohibition of Christians and effect on bread, see: Adachi, Nihon no funshoku minzokushi, 130. Onbread culture in Nagasaki and Dejima, see: Eiichi, Pan no Meiji hyakunenshi, 8-9; Kamura,Nagasaki chonin shi, 253. On export of biscuits and wheat from Nagasaki to Luzon (Philippines),see: Kamura, Nagasaki chonin shi, 270; Sola, Historia de un desencuentro, 15. For a Spanish versionofRodrigo de Vivero y Aberrucia’s comment on bread in Japan: ‘Y aunque los japaneses no gastanpan sino como genero extraordinario, no es encarecimiento decir que el que se hace en aquelpueblo es el mejor del mundo, y porque lo compran pocos, es casi de balde’. Vivero, Relacion ynoticias de el reino del Japon; others mention his quote in Japanese: Kamura, Nagasaki chonin shi,251; Otsuka, ‘Pan to Nihonjin’, 15. Accounts provided on bakery websites and articles on breadhistory often bring up Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier as an integral figure in the history ofbread culture in Japan by spreading bread consumption through the practice of communionbreads. They also note that the practice of baking bread remained on a small scale and was sold toforeigners in Nagasaki Prefecture after the bakufu’s edict banning Christianity. As for sakoku,scholars currently debate how secluded this period of isolation actually was.
  • [6] Otsuka, ‘Pan to nihonjin’, 16; Minato City Library, ‘Prominent People of Minato City,Tarozaemon Egawa’. See also Tatsuya Mitsuda’s chapter in this volume. The curator of theEgawa collection at Nirayama unfurled the scroll-like recipe for bread (handwritten by Egawa,originally enclosed in a letter) to show me the listed ingredients. In addition to bread, the recipealso included a mention of kasutera (soft cake).
  • [7] Photos from online blogs show that some visitors have also bought a version of Egawa’shardtack bread labelled ‘Bread forefather’s bread’ to try for themselves. The bread is marketedwith the accompanying text, ‘Revived from 150 years ago’ as well as ‘The first bread baked inJapan! It’s hard! Please challenge yourself with savoring the Edo era.’ Apparently, the hard breadcomes with directions that recommend: ‘If it’s difficult to eat, immerse the bread in hot water ortea and enjoy.’ Izunotabi, ‘Dai rokkai panso no pan matsuri hanbaiten goannai.’ I tried this hardbread at the festival in April 2016 and it was harder than I expected. When I took my first bite, Ienvisioned my teeth chipping off from the tenacious rigidity of the hardtack. My particular breadcame with no accompanying label with directions, but I was advised by the baker to dip it in tea tosoften the bread, and following her lead, eating the bread was a feat that suddenly became a loteasier to manage. In short, it absorbed the liquid like a sponge, turning soft and rather mushy,with a slight hint of flavour from the absorbed tea.
  • [8] On performances and rituals (including festivals and memorializing monuments) and theImportant Cultural Property designation that contribute to Japanese social memory, see Hui,et al., Perspectives on Social Memory in Japan Brumann and Cox, Making Japanese Heritage.
  • [9] Kosuge, Kindai nihon shokubunka nenpyd, 4—9; Kato, Yokohama, Past and Present, 67. Time SlipYokohama, ‘Pan no hasshochi: Yokohama bekari uchiki shoten’.
  • [10] Homeido Kyokai, Pansheru jukentei, 17; Kato, Yokohama, Past and Present, 67; Uchiki Pan,‘Pan no rekishi ni tsuite’. Clarke’s widow took over the bakery after Clarke’s death and after 35years of baking, she retired in 1888, handing the shop over to Uchiki Pan Bakery, at that timecalled Yokohama Bekari Uchiki Shoten.
  • [11] Tamura, Forever Foreign, 32. Kirby was a businessman and expatriate to Japan, born in Englandin 1846 and moved to Australia in about 1856 before moving to Shanghai and eventually arrivingat Japan. According to Tamura’s account, besides his aims with respect to baking bread, he wasalso the first person in Japan to open a small department store.
  • [12] Kimura, Pan no Meiji hyakunenshi, 109.
  • [13] Nihon hakugaku kurabu, Bakushd!.
  • [14] Kimura, Pan no meiji hyakunenshi, 123.
  • [15] Kimuraya sohonten, ‘Anpan no hi to wa?’; Kimura, Pan no Meiji hyakunenshi; Yoshino, ConsumingEthnicity and Nationalism, 13; Ohnuki-Tierney, ‘The Emperor of Japan’, 205, 208-209. In discussing how to understand the ‘divinity’ of the emperor, Ohnuki-Tierney argues for the transformation ofhow the emperor was conceived: the emperor was made especially visible during the Meiji periodthrough paintings and later photographs as ‘Manifest Deity’, but even so the populace still spoke ofthe emperor in human ways through a fluid understanding of kami (Shinto divine beings, gods orspirits). In terms of foreign food consumed by the Meiji emperor, it is important to note here thatduring the Meiji era, imperial meals often served French food, as a way to accommodate for foreignguests not accustomed to food in Japan. For imperial menu in the Meiji era, see Cwiertka, ModernJapanese Cuisine, 13-14, 18-24; also listen to Barak Kushner’s frustration at the refusal of thekunaichd (imperial household management bureau) to provide access to menus from imperialbanquets during the mid-Meiji era. He attributes their refusal to allow access to the menus to theabundance ofFrench influence on court food: ‘It’s this fascinating element that even until today, theJapanese imperial household doesn’t officially serve Japanese food at its functions; it serves Frenchfood.’ New Books Network, podcast of Carla Nappi’s interview with Kushner on his book Slurp!,December 20, 2012.
  • [16] Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 68-72. Alexander Bay mentions that the soldiers hated thebread and many threw it overboard; but bread was commonly used in combination with barley byunit doctors as therapy for beriberi. Bay, Beriberi in Modern Japan, 44-45, 80. Later, otherstaunch assertions of nutritious bread over rice came from nutritionists in the mid-late 1950s.Professor of medicine Hayashi Takashi, in comparing Western and Japanese diets, even suggesteda full bread diet and abolishing rice paddies to achieve the stronger mind that bread confers. Solt,The Untold History of Ramen, 78-79.
  • [17] ‘Taisho period: Bando prisoner-of-war camp.’ Japan Photo Archive; Murphy, Mahon.‘Brucken, Beethoven und Baumkuchen’, 128-130.
  • [18] Taishopan, ‘Irasshaimase’; Setapan, ‘Setapan sutori’; Pasco, (‘1919) nen (taisho 8 nen) — sogyo’;Kimura, Pan no Meiji hyakunenshi, 550—551, 556. Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 125.PASCO’s research team also pioneered mass production of bread made in part with domesticwheat, using yumechikara. Yumechikara is a variety of Japanese wheat (suitable for bread use)developed in Hokkaido and registered in 2008—2009, after a span of 13 years in development.Pasco, ‘Yumechikara tanjo monogatari’.
  • [19] Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 157—158; General Headquarters Supreme Commander for theAllied Powers, Mission andAccomplishments ofthe Occupation in the Public Health and Welfare Fields,17. The American charitable organization was Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia (LARA), whichprovided 350 tons of food and clothing in their first shipment of relief goods in November 30, 1946.
  • [20] Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 158. Regarding the decline of the consumption of rice,Cwiertka demonstrates that a rising standard ofliving was the background against which people inJapan consumed more meat, fish and fruit at the expense of rice by the 1970s.
  • [21] Cwiertka and Kushner discuss the subject of bread and milk as part of the school lunchprogramme and its legacies: Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine, 163; Kushner, Slurp!, 199,210—211. See also Japan Dairy Association (J-milk)’s website in Japanese for a timeline of thekinds of milk served as school lunch provisions in Japan. Japan Dairy Association (J-milk), ‘Gakkokyushoku no fukei’. According to my informants, school lunches have since been transformed andmore variety is served to schoolchildren. See also Solt, The Untold History, 10; and Kushner,Slurp!, on the history of Japanese wheat and noodles.
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