Sweet Dreams Are Made at Funabashi-ya

212 Years of History

 

Kameido, Koto City, is a rich and vibrant area recognized for its bustling atmosphere, thanks to its numerous quality restaurants and ease of access. Stepping outside the central hub around Kameido Station, however, the air is rich with history and quiet resilience—you can almost feel the passage of time in the very stones beneath your feet.

 

 

It is no surprise then, that Funabashi-ya, a traditional sweets shop and café 212 years old (and counting), is a symbolic establishment in Kameido.

Having weathered trials such as natural disasters and warfare, the original building has been built and re-built over; but Funabashi-ya’s renowned recipes have remained constant throughout the changing times, much to the delight of local residents who grew up knowing its nostalgic taste.

 

 

Duck under the noren curtains into the store, and immediately you’ll find a wide glass counter displaying various appealing menu items, such as:

 

● Tokoroten—Japanese dish made from agarophytes (gelatinous ingredient extracted from tengusa seaweed), eaten with soy vinegar in Eastern Japan (the preferred condiment changes according to the region) and traditionally enjoyed cold in the summertime.

 

● Anmitsu—agar jelly topped with adzuki red bean paste and a mix-and-match of fruits, mochi rice cake, ice cream etc.

 

● Mitsumame—agar jelly cubes and boiled red peas doused in kuromitsu (black honey); a dish known for its simplicity and a true test for the quality of the ingredients used.

 

 

Can’t decide what to order?

 

You can’t go wrong no matter what you choose. But for first-time visitors, the must-try is none other than the kuzumochi.

 

Funabashi-ya’s kuzumochi: a Kameido legend

 

 

Kuzumochi, despite the “mochi” in its name, is not made from rice but wheat flour. After separating the gluten from the starch, only the latter is used to make the mochi base, which must then be fermented in caskets for 450 days.

 

“Kuzumochi can be made in a shorter amount of time—most places only ferment the mixture for a year,” says Funabashi-ya representative, Ms. Shinohara. “But the first proprietors of Funabashi-ya figured out that 450 was the magic number to get the right consistency and texture. Can you imagine the trial and error that must have taken to figure out, 200 years ago?”

 

 

The kuzumochi is served doused in kinako (soybean powder) and kuromitsu, with the option of adding boiled red peas (“aka-endo mame” in Japanese).

 

“We boil the selected red peas in salt water. I think you’ll find that the saltiness of the peas balances out the sweetness of the kuromitsu really nicely.”

 

 

The verdict?

 

My friend Aline, who had the first taste, gave it an enthusiastic

“Great!”

 

The kuzumochi has a unique consistency—not sticky like mochi, or slippery like jelly. It’s somewhere in-between, with enough bite to be satisfying, but also smooth enough to travel easily down the throat. The kuromitsu is rich and dark and sweet, the kinako creamy, and the red peas provide a lovely, salty contrast to both, as promised!

 

In short, I could see why this has been a best-seller and their calling card for over 200 years.

 

 

Even their logo features the katakana for “fu” and the hiragana for “ku”, standing respectively for Funabashi-ya and kuzumochi.

 

In addition, kuzumochi is full of probiotics from the fermentation process. It’s great for when you want something easy on the stomach or to reset your digestive system.

 

*Trivia: Literary aficionados might be tickled to learn (as I was) that the great Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa—for whom the Akutagawa Prize in Literature, the highest honour you can receive in Japan, is named—used to sneak out of school specifically to come eat Funabashi-ya’s kuzumochi. What a rascal, but I can definitely understand why!

 

Summertime only—a cool treat

 

 

Another recommended item during summer months is Funabashi-ya’s “kakigori” shaved ice: a soft, fluffy, glistening mountain, 30-something cm tall!

 

 

At Funabashi-ya, you pour the syrup of your choice onto the ice at your leisure, ensuring that you don’t end up with all the flavour at the beginning and nothing at the end.

 

 

Aline and I chose the Uji-kintoki, which comes with matcha syrup and adzuki red beans. Constructing the kakigori is half the fun…

 

 

But eating it is definitely the better half!

 

 

“This is so big. I’m glad we’re sharing this!”

 

 

The ice is finely shaved and fluffed up with plenty of air, which makes every bite a pleasure with no risk of brain freeze. Delicious, hydrating, and perfect for getting through the hot humid summer months!

 

The kakigori is only available until the end of September, so we suggest interested readers plan a visit as soon as possible (^^)

 

 

Funabashi-ya is equal parts historical, classy, reasonable, airy and comfortable. On a nice day, you can even enjoy your tea in the courtyard!

 

 

 

For those unable to make it to Kameido, Funabashi-ya has 23 flagship stores around Tokyo. Although eating the sweets inside the serene atmosphere of the café is ideal, they offer plenty of take-away versions at all of their locations so you can recreate the experience at home. And with a name that has been praised for centuries, they make great gifts, too!

 

 

Story and Photos by Xianru Shen(Koto City Office Coordinator for International Relations)