Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why Cupcakes Aren't Popular in Japan

Every so often a cupcake shop will open in Tokyo and then there will be news in the English language media out here that the cupcake craze is finally taking off in Tokyo. But that never really seems to be true. Cake shops are everywhere, but cupcakes are scarce and their quality is generally lacking.

Magnolia bakery opened a branch here last year and while there were long lines and news stories in the beginning it's now possible to walk right in and order while their next door neighbor, Cafe Kaila - which is two years older, still has lines out the door for pancakes.

John and I have tried a few different cupcake places, but we've almost always been disappointed. While they are pretty they're almost always dry and lacking in flavor, and really small for the price. (If you must have a cupcake though Magnolia Bakery is the best of what we've tried.) To my mind cupcakes seem like a perfect match for Japan - they're small, cute, individually sized. Surely if someone could make a good one then they'd go flying off the shelves.

I was talking to a Japanese woman about this a few weeks ago, and she finally solved this mystery for me. She explained that Japanese people don't like buttercream frosting, it's thought of as old-fashioned, inelegant, and cheap. They much prefer fresh whipped cream as a frosting. They're also used to layered cakes that have different fresh fruits and fillings inside. While they don't mind the size of the cupcakes the lack of fillings makes them seem very plain and therefore not worth the price tag. Instead of being adorable treats cupcakes seem to be lacking in all the things a Japanese consumer expects.

It's funny to me because the cakes filled with whipped cream and fruits don't appeal to me at all. To me the whipped topping seems cheap (though I now understand it's not), the cake seems too spongy, and I don't like the texture of the fruit in the middle. I guess for now I'll stick to macarons when I need a small pretty sweet.

If you'd grown up with cakes like these maybe you wouldn't like cupcakes either

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