The History of Taiyaki - From Edo to Today!

20 September 2021 by Oliver

Taiyaki are on many people’s must try Japanese snacks list! The fish shaped waffles are often highly sought after, not only by tourists looking to experience authentic Japanese snacks, but also by Japanese people who are looking to indulge!

We here at the monthly Japanese candy and Japanese snack subscription box service TokyoTreat love tasty taiyaki, especially when they’re nice and hot on a cold winter's day. But the history behind this traditional Japanese treat is long. Let’s take a deep dive into the history of this famous Japanese snack. 

But first… what is Taiyaki?

Taiyaki is a classic Japanese snack that has been loved for over a century. Made from a batter similar to waffle or pancake batter, it is baked in a metal taiyaki pan filled with molded shapes. Often it is baked with a filling of anko (sweet red bean), but also custard and chocolate fillings are not uncommon. The result is a soft and fluffy golden brown pancake with a sweet filling you’ll never forget. 

And its most unique feature? It is in the shape of a sea bream ('Tai' in Japanese)! Its unique shape continues to be popular even today.

Imagawayaki Before Taiyaki

Perhaps unfamiliar, but critical to our story is the taiyaki’s predecessor, imagawayaki. Imagawayaki is a circular waffle-like snack made from a very thick batter and a sweet anko filling, cooked in an iron skillet mold. They have a cake-like texture and a sweet, anko filling.

They first appeared in the Kanda district of Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1867), where they quickly became a popular hot snack and spread around Japan.

Swimming onto the Scene 

At the turn of the 20th century, we saw the end of the Meiji period, a time of great modernization and change in Japan. But we also saw an evolution in the Taiyaki making process. 

A man by the name of Seijiro Kanbei was going through a rough period. His imagawayaki store was not doing well and that led him to take creative measures, to develop a new and inventive shape for his Japanese snack.

He eventually created the Taiyaki. The reason why the sea bream shape was chosen has been debated since its creation over 100 years ago. Many believe that it was to give the common people a taste of luxury. 

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The sea bream was considered one of the most valuable fish in Japan at that time, even being referred to as the King of Fish. By making a snack in the shape of a rare fish, it allowed people to feel like they could easily enjoy a little bit of luxury, even for a minute. 

Another popular theory is that sea bream are thought to be lucky. They share a part of the word Omedetai (Congratulations), making them a popular snack around the new year. 

Using a new style of mold and a thinner batter than its predecessor, this new Japanese snack quickly took off in its native Kansai (western Japan) home, and later in Tokyo. Newspapers quickly followed the course of this new creation, and the popularity of the unique snack skyrocketed. Following this, the new shape for the snack eventually became more popular than the standard imagawayaki. 

Into the Modern Era

Following the second world war, the Japanese economy was hit hard. But selling taiyaki became a quick and consistent way to make money, helping those experiencing hard times to carry on. As they spread across the country, regional styles and variations began to pop up.

Taiyaki find themselves as regular features during festivals and events for people to enjoy. And street vendors offering the classic treat can still be found even today. If street food isn’t your thing, you can even buy frozen taiyaki at home that you can heat up and enjoy on your own time.

Experimentation with taiyaki is also something that keeps the taiyaki industry swimming along! From unique batter flavors like sakura, new fillings and combos with ice cream, taiyaki are still going strong even over 100 years after they first hit the market. We even enjoyed the Demon Slayer taiyaki that featured designs using the faces of Tanjiro, Nezuko, Zenitsu and Inosuke. 

TokyoTreat Loves Taiyaki!

TokyoTreat isn’t going to let our lovely TokyoTreat fam miss out on all of the taiyaki goodness! We regularly feature taiyaki snacks as well as so many other great Japanese snacks and sweets. Come and check what Japanese snacks could be coming your way this month!

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