Nihon Pan-demic: The Road of Yeast Resistance

Japan is a land of innovation, although it’s not usually the source of the original invention. Japan is unparalleled in its capacity to take existing methodology or technology and improve upon it. Sony didn’t invent the transistor radio, but they perfected it. Nintendo didn’t invent video games, but they utilized the medium so skillfully that it has been elevated to an art form. Toyota didn’t invent the automobile, Toshiba didn’t invent the television; the list goes on and on.  Even Osamu Tezuka (手塚 治虫), the creator of Astro Boy and other classics—often called the “Godfather of Manga and Anime”—was originally inspired by Walt Disney. (That is where the trend of extra big anime eyes started, by the way.) Now Japanese hand drawn animation is the best in the world, has been for decades. In fact, these days Disney focuses almost entirely on CG animation, and then they simply buys the rights to distribute Hayao Miyazaki’s films in the States. If you can’t beat’em, take credit for their work.

So why, amid this atmosphere of constant improvement and striving for perfection, does Japanese bread suck? Yeah that’s right, I said it. Japanese bread sucks.

I should probably explain that I passionately dislike white bread. If you can appreciate white bread then you will probably dig Japan’s style. But I cannot. I’m pretty sure almost no one in Japan has even a conception of wheat bread.  Japanese bread is super light and ultra fluffy—like you’re eating air. This is the antithesis of my preferred bread; a hearty wheat or multigrain. Some brands have multiple varieties available, but they are all white bread, with names like “Fresh & Soft” and “Sweet & Soft”, which I believe has added sugar.

There’s also an extremely popular style of bread is called “Hotel Bread” (ホテルパン). Hotel Bread is—you guessed it—also white bread. I tried to find an explanation of what makes Hotel Bread different from the others, but all I was able to find is that it is similar to the bread you’d get for breakfast in a hotel. OK thanks, glad we cleared that one up.

I’ve actually read blogs where people profess their love for Japan’s bread, comparing it to, and elevating it above, terrible American white bread. This is interesting since Japan’s bread is the distillation and perfection of Wonderbread. And not only is the bread as white and airy as possible, but it always comes pre-sliced in thick, Texas Toast-style slices. I couldn’t use this to make a sandwich if I wanted to.

I had a conversation with my friend Yamazaki-san about Japanese bread, and he was surprised that I didn’t care for it. I explained that I preferred denser, whole grain bread, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to properly express it, so Yamazaki probably thinks that I like hard, stale bread. One key point that he explained to me is that in Japanese homes, bread is rarely use to make sandwiches. Instead, a single slice of bread is considered the main course of a breakfast.

That revealed much of the mystery right there. All the slices are thick Texas Toast-style because one slice—probably with jam or some other spread, and a piece of fruit on the side—was actually supposed to be your whole breakfast. Loaves always contained five of six slices because that would get you through a work week. But why does it always have to be white bread?

I would venture to guess that white bread as a national preference is related to Japan’s preference for white polished rice, but honestly, I don’t know. Fun Fact: the process of making white rice removes many important vitamins and minerals. The lack of vitamin B1 in particular caused an epidemic of thiamine deficiency in the Japanese middleclass in the late 1800’s, which was called “beriberi” (ベリベリ). These days, it is standard practice to enrich white rice with minerals to avoid dietary deficiency issues.

It’s funny that Japan seems to have plenty of artisan bakeries, where you can buy all manner of pastries and cakes and breads, but at the supermarket, white bread is all you can find. After much searching, I was finally able to find a loaf of wheat bread (or something like it) at an Aeon store in Yoichi. While it’s at least brown, it’s still very light and fluffy. Oh well, I think this is the best I can do.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Nihon Pan-demic: The Road of Yeast Resistance

  1. dude i’ve tried to explain to people that all bread in japan is texas toast. and have you ever seen a bagel?

    • You were totally right, man. In fact, your warning inspired me to write this post, just in case other visitors had never heard it before. I have seen bagels, but only in bakeries and coffee shops, and not very frequently. It’s always a nostalgic treat to get a bagel though… So good…

      • kittiesplay

        I agree with your article. I hate that thick fluffy bread T-T i like the textured bread like you like which Japanese probably think I mean by that is hard stale bread like you said. I like the aged bread but not hard as a rock its really hard to describe, basically I love the bread in Europe, mainly the bread in France. I miss the bread in France T-T

  2. Damien

    lol I’m reading this article while eating almost the same white fluffy Japanese bread. It’s better than the dirt cheap white western bread but doesn’t get much better than that. The problem is lack of wholegrain, lack of care for freshness, too much bad fat alternatives(margarine and shortening instead of butter), no trend of natural yeast based baking.
    Takaki bakery is as good as it gets without having to go to an urban specialist store.

  3. Pingback: How To Eat Healthy In Japan | iaccidentlyatethewholething

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