Back in Japanese history, there were concentrated areas where candy was produced. For a while, this humble street in Kawagoe produced all the candy for Japan. Nowadays, it holds onto the traditional candy-making ways and acts more as a tourist attraction than a functional factory of confections.
A Brief History of Penny Candy Lane, Kawagoe
The Edo period: It holds so much importance to Japanese history, particularly the city of Kawagoe, that we shouldn’t expect its influence to not have some sort of hold over this street as well. Production, they say, began in earnest here at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868) to help satiate the sweet cravings of Tokyoites (then called Edokko, or children of Edo). Production only began to ramp up in the early Showa period (1926-1989) because the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 left most of the eastern coast in shambles (Tokyo, Yokohama). At its peak, this humble alley held over 70 candy shops that supplied nearly all of the candy for Japan. As globalization and an influx of new goods and candies began entering the country, the production here began to slow. In 2001, it was given the… unique distinction as one of the 100 Scent Sceneries of Japan by the ever-reliable Ministry of the Environment.
Kashiya Yokocho Today: A Guide to Japanese Candies
Nowadays, there are only about 20 candy shops that remain on good-old Penny Candy Lane. You can still buy the classic Japanese candies as well as some of their modern contemporaries. For the uninitiated, here is a brief, brief primer on Japanese candies:
These are little star-shaped bits of sugar coated in more sugar. They were first introduced by the Portuguese and were even presented by the missionary Luís Fróis to Oda Nobunaga himself as a gift to help grease the wheels to allow Christianity in the country. They are somewhat flavorless, sickeningly sweet, and now one of the most recognizably Japanese candies out there, despite their foreign origins.
This is a type of hard candy that is rolled into a tube and cut into little discs. Traditionally, they had the face of Kintaro, the boy hero, but the term has expanded to mean all candies that have this same shape and cooking process. Now, you can find patterns, flowers, and fruits adorning these hard candies. They are stunning to look at, even if the flavor is a bit generic.
Higashi are candies typically made with rice flour and fine sugar, although the exact ingredient list will vary wildly depending on the type of Higashi and the store from which you are buying. They were considered very high-class, reserved for royals like the emperor, because of their fancy design work.
Before sugar came flowing into the country, most of the sweetness for treats came from– you guessed it– beans! Hence the abundance of sweet red beans in a large variety of deserts and treats. With sugar, the Japanese, wisely so, decided to combine two great things to make something even greater. Amanatto are sweet beens that are boiled in sugar water and covered in even more sugar after their sweet bath. The texture might be sticking point for some but the flavor overall is pretty pleasing.
You can’t go wrong with the candies available in this historic candy quarter. Which one looks best to you? Let us know in the comments!