Though Japan is usually associated with rice, bread bakeries are scattered all over the country. Ranging from local mom-and-pop spots to high-end specialty stores, bread of all varieties is served and enjoyed as a common breakfast, snack, and even meal throughout Japan.
How to Shop at Japanese Bakeries
At a typical Japanese bakery, there will be a stack of clean trays and tongs near the front entrance. Pick up one of each and meander your way through the bread aisles, following the guests in front of you. When you see an item that you want, simply use the tongs to place it on your tray. This self-service ordering system allows you to take your time browsing the selection and choose exactly what you want! At the register, the cashier will tally up the amount due and place your breads into plastic bags if they aren’t wrapped already.
Popular Japanese Breads
If it’s your first time visiting a Japanese bakery, you might be overwhelmed by the dizzying array of options. Here is a quick overview of some of the most ubiquitous breads to help you navigate any bakery with ease!
Anpan (Red Bean Bread)
The original snack bread, anpan is a soft bread bun stuffed with anko (red bean paste). Popularized by the iconic bakery Kimuraya in 1874, anpan was inspired by manju, a traditional Japanese steamed bun that is commonly filled with bean paste. Today, anpan is a standard inclusion on any Japanese bakery menu, with many bakeries offering their own special version. In fact, anpan is so beloved that it is the inspiration behind the famous cartoon superhero character An Pan Man, whose head is made of anpan!
Named for the appearance of its cross-hatched coating, melon pan is not actually melon-flavored - it just looks like one! Rather, melon pan is a sweet bread bun covered in a crisp layer of dough similar to a sugar cookie. A favorite amongst children, melon pan can also be stuffed with fillings such as chocolate, custard, and even soft cream!
Sometimes referred to as “milk bread”, this soft and fluffy bread has risen in popularity not just in Japan, but all around the world. Characterized by its square shape, shokupan is commonly used for thick-sliced toast and Japanese-style sandos, or simply eaten on its own. Made with milk and butter, shokupan has a richer flavor and stretchier texture compared to simple white bread and pairs well with both sweet and savory toppings.
Kare Pan (Curry Bread)
Japan’s national dish is curry rice, so it only makes sense that curry has snuck its way into bread as well. A fried bread bun coated in crunchy panko breadcrumbs, kare pan is stuffed with thick, savory curry. Some versions will also come with meat, potatoes, carrots, and onions included, making it a great option for a filling snack or light meal.
One of the more bizarre-looking breads, yakisoba pan is exactly what it sounds like - soy sauce-flavored wheat noodles stuffed inside of a hot dog bun. A carbohydrate extravaganza, yakisoba pan uses bread, rather than a fork, as a vehicle to consume noodles. While its existence confuses many foreigners, it’s impossible to deny the efficiency of eating two separate dishes at once.
About the author:
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.