In the historical town of Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture, is a quaint little shop called Dagashiya Kamakura Hase which captures the spirit of the old-fashion Japanese candy shop (dagashiya).
Dagashiya originated in the Meiji era and used to line the streets of Japan, especially along routes where children could buy their favorite dagashi (candy) on their way to and from school. Though humble, dagashiya shops played an important role in the cultural fabric of Japan. Older generations will remember the joy of visiting these shops as children and buying cute little dagashi with their own pocket change. Now, as convenience stores have sprung up all around Japan with their commercial, mass produced candies, dagashiya are slowly becoming a distant memory from the past.
Dagashiya Kamakura Hase, a family owned shop located on the way to the awe-inspiring Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha), has the same old-fashion atmosphere and simple packaged candies that every generation adores. We sat down with the owner, Ms Sakai, to hear about her motivations for preserving the nostalgia of dagashiya and her hopes for creating fond memories for those visiting in the future.
Kokoro: What inspired you to start your shop?
Sakai-san: My parents started this business when they came to Hase. In fact, their move to Kamakura was entirely inspired by the idea of opening a business here.
They opened their dagashiya some twenty years ago. It ended up being in the perfect place given all the children visiting on school trips.
Kokoro: In addition to candy, your shop also sells cute stationary which makes even window shopping fun. Where did you get this idea? Is it your hobby?
Sakai-san: As our shop had so many food-based souvenirs, we started looking into other products we could offer. Items such as sticky notes and tape were coming in fashion at that time. Considering how many people come through here to see the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), we decided to use the Daibutsu’s design in the creation of these items
Kokoro: Is there anything about the shop that has changed in recent years?
Sakai-san: We still see students on school trips as I mentioned before and the heavy foot traffic from seasonal tourists in the area. I hadn't seen many foreign tourists in the area, but recently international travelers coming in through Haneda Airport have also been on the rise. Japanese tourists don’t tend to spend all that much at tourist spots, but people coming in from foreign countries often go all-out on certain products. As a result, our shop’s focus shifted from the regular dagashi that we sold when it first opened to also selling original products such as T-shirts and magnets that really catch the attention of foreign customers.
These days the shop is split into two main modes: original Daibutsu products for the kids on school trips and souvenirs intended for foreign tourists.
Kokoro: How do you view the current climate of food culture and how things are in your local area? Is there anything you as an individual or your company are grappling with?
Sakai-san: In the old days, so many people came to the shop, saw the dagashi all lined up and said, “Wow! How nostalgic!”. They would buy some on that feeling alone. However, these days you can find dagashi in convenience stores, supermarkets, and hyaku-en (100 yen) shops across the country. I think that feelings of nostalgia for dagashi have been rapidly declining in the last decade since people can buy them any time they want.
People these days can easily and conveniently buy whatever they want whenever they want from anywhere in the world, even local products. I worry that the atmosphere of people flowing to places of tourism like ours to buy special goods might fade as well.
Because of this, I’ve spent many years grappling with the idea of how to make products and a shop that will catch the attention of foreign tourists and give them a fun experience they can’t have anywhere else.
Kokoro: What plans do you have for your shop in the future?
Sakai-san: These sorts of questions have been weighing on me. I often think about the decline of goods targeting local tourists and instead focus on welcoming tourists from abroad. I want the kind of shop and goods where people from other countries will tell their friends, “If you go to Kamakura and if you go to Hase, be sure to go there!”
Kokoro: Is there a message you would like to share with your shop’s foreign customers?
Sakai-san: Hase in Kamakura is easily accessible from Haneda Airport and the heart of Tokyo as it’s only around an hour by car or train.
Start with the Kamakura Daibutsu. There are so many temples and shrines in town, but it’s compact enough that you can see and fully enjoy what Kamakura has to offer even in one day. In the event that you get to spend some time in Japan, you should absolutely come and make time for Hase in Kamakura!
I welcome you from the bottom of my heart!
Learn more about Dagashiya Kamakura Hase at http://dagasiya.afz.jp/
Translation courtesy of Kenneth Valencich