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Monday, Feb. 11, 2008
Sweets makers using more than chocolate to woo
Valentine's Day, whose star product is chocolate, is no longer a business opportunity for Western-style producers only.
In fact, Japanese-style sweets produced by traditional confectioneries have gained recognition as an alternative gift for Feb. 14.
For instance, Kyoto-based Yoshihiro, which accepts custom orders for sweets, began offering several kinds of Valentine's Day products in 2007, including Kyoto-green tea truffles, after receiving positive reactions from customers who had ordered something original for the big day in previous years, owner Keisuke Mizuuchi said.
The shop, established in 1958, also sells a special set to make confectionery at home, including bean jam and "nerikiri" (paste made of rice flour, water, sugar and bean jam).
People who buy the set can make Kyoto-style cakes shaped like hearts by getting instructions, including video-based directions, on the Web. The address of the Web site is given to customers only.
The do-it-yourself set "is quite popular with younger generations," said Mizuuchi, adding that his store attempts to create "new Kyoto-style confectioneries" in addition to traditional fare.
Because Valentine's Day is based on romance, hearts are commonly used by many Japanese confectioneries, including for heart-shaped "senbei" rice crackers and "dorayaki" red bean jam sandwiched by layers of baked cakes.
The Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan says on its Web site that the custom of giving chocolates on Valentine's Day became popular around the end of the 1970s thanks to heavy promotion by chocolate companies.
According to the association, the 2005 Valentine's Day season saw ¥53 billion in chocolate sales. It says this probably equates to 12 percent to 13 percent of annual chocolate consumption nationwide.
Another Kyoto-based confectionery, Kanshundo, established at the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868), has been selling special sweets for Valentine's Day for about 15 years.
"At first, (Valentine's Day) was not an event for Japanese confectionery," said Chikako Kinoshita, whose husband Yoshimasa is the sixth-generation owner of Kanshundo.
Yoshimasa Kinoshita said the Valentine's Day sweets have been well-received year after year by a wide range of customers, noting that sales have never gone down and show an increase of roughly 10 percent almost every year.
To cash in on Feb. 14, the store now prepares a variety of sweets, such as its heart-shaped Blue Bird "higashi," a type of dried-sugar confectionery, and a chocolate-coated "manju" bun, also in the shape of a heart.
Yoshimasa Kinoshita pointed out that Japanese-style sweets can be a good alternative for adults, especially the elderly who may be more used to Japanese sweets than Western-style chocolate.
While maintaining tradition and the sweets handed down through the ages, "we try to produce confectionery that goes along with the time," said Chikako Kinoshita.