Traditional Japanese Cakes (and Temple Approaches)

The approaches to many of Japan’s Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are lined with vendors selling a variety of edible and non-edible treats. When visiting holy sites, I often forego breakfast (or lunch, if I’m heading over at mid-day) to ensure I have room to sample the delicious, traditional treats on offer.


Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, established during the 7th century and rebuilt several times after fires ravaged the Asakusa district (where the temple sits). The street between the temple’s Kaminarimon (Thunder gate) and the Hozomon (main gate) is known as Nakamise Dori, and it’s lined with vendors who stay open into the evening hours (a rare delight; the vendors on most such temple approaches close at sunset).

Nakamise Dori bustles with activity even after dark:


When I visited, in late October, the vendor street was adorned with momiji (colorful autumn maple leaf) decorations:


After visiting the temple, I stopped at a stand selling freshly-baked traditional cakes filled with sweet azuki bean paste. The cakes themselves tasted a lot like Western pancakes – soft, fluffy, and slightly sweet.


(Sweet bean paste isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it a lot – and if you’ve never tried it, you definitely should. It’s a very traditional flavoring in Japan.)

The cakes were wrapped in plastic, but still warm from the vendor’s griddles:

Purchased for 100yen on approach to Sensoji, Tokyo

Like many Japanese cakes, these had lovely, special shapes. I chose a bird


but the vendor also had cakes in the shape of pagodas, buddhas, and autumn leaves.

If you go to Japan, make sure you visit at least one major temple and one Shinto shrine, and be sure to save room to sample the traditional delicacies from vendors selling treats along the approach to the holy site. It’s a wonderful way to experience traditional Japanese sights, sounds, smells, and tastes!