Raw Japan

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Cheap treat keeps Japan sweet

November 11, 2009

JAPAN-SNACK/What is sticky, shaped like a fish and helps Japanese people shrug off the lingering effects of the country’s worst recession since World War Two?

The economy is struggling but sales of a traditional, fish-shaped sweet snack are going along swimmingly, thanks to its low price and auspicious name.

Taiyaki, which means baked sea bream, is a pancake stuffed with a sweet bean jam and served hot and cheap in stalls all over the country.

The name helps. “Tai”, Japanese for sea bream, sounds similar to the word for happiness.

With a price tag of as little as 130 yen ($1.45), the snack, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is making a lot of people happy — including those needing a job as the stalls are easy to get going. 

“Taiyaki has been around from ancient days but I still want to eat one once in a while,” Masako Kano, a 69 year-old housewife queuing outside a new store, told me. “Compared to other cakes, which normally cost around 200 yen to 300 yen, its price is attractive.”

Fancy Corporation recently opened its 45th taiyaki outlet in Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo, saying the cheap snack is as popular as ever in tough times. 

“In this economic environment, customers prefer products that are low-priced, safe and reliable. I think that’s why the number of our stores is growing,” says company spokeswoman Eriko Yano.


Japan’s snack industry association says sales of expensive confectionery is waning, leaving more room for the little treats in life.

“I think the taiyaki boom has to do a lot with the capability that you can buy one or two pieces at a time. The decrease in our income has been serious,” 76-year-old Michiko Hoshi told me as she queued up to buy the snack.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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