Kyoto offers bread lovers plenty to chew on

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Taiga Tamura, left, asks bakery worker a question during a tour of popular bakeries in Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto.

By Kayo Hayashi/Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterPeople in Kyoto can’t, it seems, get enough of bread. According to a Family Income and Expenditure Survey conducted by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, Kyoto City ranked top among municipalities in terms of average expenditure on bread per household.

There are various theories why, such as that workers from the area liked bread as a snack because it didn’t get their hands dirty.

Events in Kyoto featuring high-quality bread from famous bakeries draw crowds, while bread guidebooks have also been published. Evidently, this enthusiasm for bread is even being used for regional promotion.

A tour of popular bakeries in Kyoto was held in late November last year. “Homemade bean paste is used for this anpan [bun filled with red bean paste]. I recommend this because of the soft texture of its koshi-an smooth bean paste,” tour guide and photographer Taiga Tamura, 31, said at one of the bakeries.

Tamura holds photo exhibitions featuring bakers. His tours attract people from across the country, with the 15 places for each one quickly filled. “I hope participants understand the philosophies of the bakers, the history of each bakery, and what bread means in Kyoto,” Tamura said.

According to the survey, average household annual spending on bread was ¥40,571 in Kyoto — Kobe at ¥38,137 was in second place.

Bread production began in Kyoto in the mid-Meiji era (1868-1912), according to “Pan no Meiji Hyakunen-shi” (The 100-year history of bread since the Meiji era). Recently, more and more bakeries have started offering unique products, such as fresh sliced bread to be eaten just as it is, and Japanese rolled omelet sandwiches. Against this backdrop, events featuring high-quality bread are gaining popularity.

One such event is the Kyoto Pan Festival, which has been held in autumn since 2015 at Kamigamo Shrine in Kita Ward, Kyoto. In 2016, about 50,000 people visited the two-day event. “Kissaten [Japanese cafe] culture has its roots in Kyoto, so many tourists visit Kyoto to try the bread sold here,” an official in charge of the event said.

In September last year, Kyoto 1er (Premier) Bakery Market, which offers bread products from 12 popular bakeries, opened in a building in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto. More than 10,000 people visited the store in its first two months. “We hope customers enjoy the flavors loved by the locals in central Kyoto,” an official in charge of the bakery said.

The publishing industry is also focusing on bread culture. A guidebook featuring about 200 bakeries that is published by Tokyo-based Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc. has sold about 20,000 copies so far. “Bread in Kyoto seems to be popular among women because of the trend of posting images on Instagram,” a company official said.

Raising numbers

There has also been an attempt to use the popularity of bread to increase the number of Kyoto City Subway users. A group of officials from the Kyoto City government planned an event for Mother’s Day last year in which popular bakeries offered their products at the Kyoto Botanical Garden in Sakyo Ward. On the day, nearby Kitayama Station saw 26 percent more users compared to the same day the previous year, when the event wasn’t held, according to the organizers.

And the tours are proving popular. The one led by Tamura is run by Maimai Kyoto, a group that organizes sightseeing tours. Tamura’s covers four bakeries, and participants can sample bread and ask bakers questions. For details, visit

Early fans went against the grain

Takahide Yamamoto, the president of the Kyoto Pan Kyodo Kumiai (Kyoto bread cooperative association) in Minami Ward, Kyoto, said there are two theories about the origins of Kyoto bread culture.

One is that there are many craftspeople in Kyoto, and they favored bread as a work snack. “Some say bread has a particularly deep connection with nishijin-ori fabric. Onigiri rice balls weren’t suitable as a snack for workers at nishijin-ori fabric weaving factories, because rice grains stuck to their hands. Bread apparently gained popularity as an easy-to-eat snack,” Yamamoto said.

Another theory is that from the Taisho era (1912-1926) to the early Showa era (1926-1989), merchants who enjoyed keeping ahead of the latest trends spent time in coffee shops that served bread, and the popularity soon followed them home as households got a taste for the recent import.

According to the Family Income and Expenditure Survey, Kyoto ranked second among major cities in terms of spending on coffee and fourth in terms of spending on black tea. This suggests Kyoto’s bread culture is supported by people who like drinking tea and coffee.

Amid the bread boom, local industries are trying to promote the local aspect. Bread made with sake yeast from the Fushimi district has been registered as a “Kyo-brand” product — Kyo no Pan (Bread of Kyoto) — with the Kyoto prefectural food industry association.

The prefecture is also increasing the kinds of bread served with school meals, such as wholegrain or bread made from rice flour.

“We offer bread made predominantly with local flour and study ways to get more children interested in bread,” Yamamoto said.

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