Sharing Japanese sweets with the world Sharing Japanese sweets with the world

Sharing Japanese sweets with the world

    NHK World
    A Japanese entrepreneur is sharing some of Japan's best-loved sweets with the world with a subscription service that offers seasonal treats. Boxes filled with traditional confectionery known as wagashi are being delivered to fans.

    The theme for April is cherry blossom, with boxes filled with pink delighting customers. "Getting to try Japanese treats, especially traditional ones from small makers, is really exciting for me," says Arizona resident Janelle Robertson.

    The box includes a booklet that introduces wagashi and explains aspects of Japanese culture.

    Robertson looks forward to her monthly delivery from Japan — the next best thing to being able to travel. She likes Japanese animation, history and architecture, and looks forward to visiting one day and seeing the cherry blossoms in person.

    "Wagashi looks beautiful and the texture is really different from anything we have in America," she says of the confectionery that uses sticky rice and red beans as key ingredients.

    Chikamoto Ayumi runs the subscription service from Tokyo. Each box her company sends out contains 20 items from her stable of 50 suppliers.

    Deliveries can reach customers around the world in as little as 3 days.

    Chikamoto has employed a team of foreign employees. They post pictures, historical information, and explanations about wagashi on social media.

    "I've hired as many foreigners as possible so as to be able to provide services from the perspective of overseas customers," she says. "They're in charge of web design, marketing and customer support."

    Chikamoto says foreigners make up 60 percent of her company's workforce.

    Chikamoto noticed that foreign tourists in Japan were showing a growing interest in Japanese confections and in 2015, started her subscription business, Tokyo Treat, offering chocolates and snacks.

    She expanded to include wagashi as Japan closed its borders to tourists. "It can't be helped that foreign tourists can't come to Japan during the pandemic," Chikamoto says. "But we can still keep promoting Japan during this time."

    Individual manufacturers have found it difficult to export wagashi because of its short shelf life. But the fast delivery times that Chikamoto's business is able to offer have changed the game.

    Confectioner Bairindo has been in business for more than 150 years. Through Chikamoto, its products are reaching foreign customers for the first time.

    "I think the best thing about the subscription service is that our wagashi can reach consumers quickly," says Kuribara Hisanao, Bairindo's managing director.

    "I hope that foreign customers can feel the quality of Japan by experiencing the taste of the ingredients we are particular about," says Bairindo managing director Kuribara Hisanao.

    Chikamoto's two subscription services reach customers in 180 countries and regions. Sales last year rose seven-fold from fiscal 2016. "I hope Japan's confectionery culture will become truly familiar among people everywhere," says the entrepreneur. "I'll do my best to keep promoting it."

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