Baking as Big Industry in Japan

It is worth noting that the baking business is a big industry in Japan. In 2014, Japan’s Yamazaki Baking Co., Ltd ranked as the world’s fifth top baking company based on international sales expressed in dollars. Yamazaki Baking Co., Ltd has stores located in Taiwan, Thailand, US, France, Malaysia and Singapore. It owns Vie de France, a giant bakery chain in Japan, which has a subsidiary in the US with five bakeries located in Maryland, Washington D.C. and California.[1]

Turning to another form of industrial bread, emergency disaster relief kits (common in households and offices because of the risk of earthquakes) often include canned bread. The Pan Akimoto Company delivered 10,000 cans of bread in their stock as relief for those affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami immediately after the disaster.[2] Since the Meiji period, bakeries have flourished and bread has become popular for breakfast, lunch and on occasion for dinner as a quick and simple meal or an accompaniment to meals. The regionally specific ‘morning service’ (moningu sabisu) at cafes in and around Nagoya City includes free toast, egg (and sometimes salad) with an order of coffee.

In fact, the similar ‘morning set’ (mdningu setto) which is widespread across Japan usually comes with some kind of bread (and possibly other items) for an extra few hundred yen in addition to the price of coffee.[3] All-you-can-eat-bread restaurants serving lunch and dinner allow customers to fill up on varieties of bread from rows of baskets to enjoy with their meals. Larger supermarkets come equipped with a bakery that bakes bread on site not to mention shelves full of pre-packaged bread, and department stores typically include at least one or possibly more bakeries, often located in the underground food shopping centres (depachika). The local supermarket in a residential area near my apartment has a sale on bread every Wednesday that they advertise on large banners and in broadcasted announcements. Convenience stores also have at least one or two shelves devoted to pre-packaged sandwiches and breads sealed in plastic. Bread also serves as buns for hamburgers and hot dogs in the rampant fast food chains of Japan. Even in the home, bread can be made easily with bread machines, like Panasonic’s ‘Home Bakery’ (homu bekari), and personal-use dough-kneading machines. One informant said that bread is convenient precisely because it is so versatile - unlike rice it can be eaten without any accompanying side dishes, but it can also be eaten with meals.[4]

Outside of consuming bread as food, people produce and consume images and ideas of bread in books and magazines, bread seminars and events, bread museums (in Hokkaido and one in the planning stages in Kobe), bread art (including bread charms, jewellery and paintings) and even bread animation characters (especially the ones in the longstanding Anpan man red bean bread cartoon with its own children’s museum chain in five cities: Yokohama, Sendai, Nagoya, Kobe and Fukuoka). Thus, bread as food in turn generates other areas of industry and culture, its likeness emerging as art, literature, tourism and entertainment.

Many of the interviews I have conducted and events I have attended recently have been driven by topics my informants have mentioned over and over. Based on the comments of my informants, these events and narratives focus on understanding the so-called bread boom Japan is experiencing today. The events also involve new networks formed to ascertain and probe what Japanese bread or Japanese-style bread might mean, as a means of crafting bread that represents Japan.[5]

  • [1] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, ‘Bakery Products in Japan’; Vie de France, ‘About Vie deFrance’.
  • [2] Government of Japan Public Relations Office, ‘Cover Story’.
  • [3] Interview with a manager at a large bread manufacturing company, November 18, 2015. Theterms ‘morning service’ (mdningu sabisu) and ‘morning set’ (mdningu setto) are now often usedinterchangeably, but the previous connotes a free ‘service’ of bread and sides as extras with thepurchase of coffee, while the latter connotes a set to be ordered. My impression is the term‘morning service’ is used more widely in and around Nagoya City, but I have also seen cafes andbakeries outside of the region use the term ‘morning service’, in addition to ‘morning set’.
  • [4] On changes in material inventory/equipment in the home in conveying social status as well asnotions of national identity, see: Fajans, ‘Challenging cooking styles’, 112-113 on pressurecookers and blenders; on rice cookers, see: Nakano, Where There Are Asians. As conveyed by theinformant, I also insist that bread in Japan can be considered a ‘platform food’, as Barak Kushnercalls ramen; in other words, a food that can take on and be paired with many flavours andtoppings, and can be adapted to local tastes. In fact, Kushner likens ramen to a sandwich in thisaspect of versatility. See Poon, ‘“Artisanal” Ramen?’.
  • [5] As I mentioned, these bakers and self-styled bread educators and event coordinators discuss‘Japanese-style’ or ‘Japanese’ bread in these various terms which have different nuanced meanings: wafu pan, nihonrashi pan, wapan, washoku no pan, nihon no pan, as well as others.
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