My weakness for sweet bean paste will come as no surprise to regular readers of this column. I love this wholesome azuki jam in all the ways it’s served—slathered on kusadango rice cakes, frozen as ogura aisu, or stuffed inside dorayaki pancakes. This month I spoke with Taeko Seyama of Usagiya, the family-run business that created dorayaki.
There are three Usagiya shops in Tokyo, and we’re often asked which is the main one. In fact they’re all independently run offshoots of the business my grandfather started in Ueno in 1913. His original trade was in candles, but as more homes in the city became wired for electricity, he decided to switch over to something for which there’d always be a demand—sweets!
My mother and her brothers all worked in the Ueno shop from a young age. One of those uncles opened the Nihonbashi Usagiya after World War II, when he returned from his overseas deployment. My mother worked there for a time, and then opened a third Usagiya in Nishi-Ogikubo in 1950, joining forces with another returned soldier who had been with the Ueno shop. Sugar, beans, and rice were hard to come by in those days, but my mother would use no substitutes, insisting on the traditional recipes.
Despite those difficulties, Nishi-Ogikubo was a place where many literati lived, and our offerings found a good following there. In 1957 she moved to a larger space here in Asagaya, choosing a north-facing shop as there was no refrigeration in those days.
Today, my younger brother works here with me. Including parttimers we have 35 people on staff, but even so it’s all we can do to keep up with the orders. Many people associate us with dorayaki, but in fact we’ve always made a range of traditional sweets, including rice cakes and seasonal wagashi.
We use domestically grown azuki and prepare different kinds of paste according to the type of confection. And just as in the old days, we do everything by hand.
Another carryover from the Ueno shop is that we only place one of each product in the showcase. We keep the confections fresh and moist in the back of the shop, and wrap up each purchase upon order. All of our products can be purchased singly. For gift use, we’ll provide a box for a slight extra charge.
My top recommendation for takeaway on these hot summer days is yokan jelly. Inside the shop we have a few tables where customers can relax with a bowl of shaved ice or a classic anmitsu made with kanten jelly, salted beans, sweet bean paste, soft gyuhi rice cakes, and chilled dark cane syrup.