During Japan’s Meiji Restoration period, railways were being completed all over Hokkaido. In the early days of railway travel, transit time, as well as the time spent stopped at stations, was much longer than it is today. Because of this, various treats were sold at every station along the tacks. It became one of the highlights of long trips for visitors to be able to enjoy snacks from different locations.
Dr. Toshinobu Tsudaka, the author of “Confectionery Graffiti in Hokkaido,” and a doctor of confectionaries, has named these station-sold treats "Ekinama," or "Fresh 'Station'aries."
The origin of the "Ekinama" is located on the Hakodate main line, between Sapporo Station and Otaru Station, at Zenibako Station. In 1880 Hokkaido's first rail line, running between Sapporo and Temiya, opened its doors to the public. The station's all wood building, constructed in 1931, was used for the filming of the 1981 Japanese film "駅 STATION."
(Exterior of Zenibako Station)
Soon after opening, the station became famous for what would eventually become one of it's main specialty products, the "Sake Manju." The treat was also the first boxed treat in Hokkaido to be sold right on the station platform!
It is said that Mr. Jintaro Nishimura was the first man to manufacture and sell the product. Later on, as the treat reached the peak of its popularity, four or five other confectionaries opened up and began producing home-made unrefined sake for their own version of the manju treat. For a time, the treat was so popular that the number of salespeople on the platform made service nearly impossible. This led to a station rule where only four salsepeople were allowed on the platform at one time.
However, after WWII, production of unrefined sake was heavily regulated, and before anyone realized, the product had disappeared. The "Sake Manju" wasn't brought back until 1999, when Mr. Hideo Ogawa, from Ashibetsu City, decided to revive the treat! To bring back the original flavor he relied on the memory of a friend and used trial-and-error until he got it right.
Now, production of the treat has been taken over by "Yoneta Confectionary," also located in Ashibetsu. They are currently using sake lees (a byproduct of sake production) from Asahikawa's Otokoyama Sake Brewery for sweetness. The sweet scent of sake, from the lees, combined with the sweetness of red bean paste, makes for a spectacularly tasty treat! (And they certainly aren't lacking in fans.)
The "Sake Manju" is currently only sold at the Zenibaku Station Kiosk and in Ashibetsu City, with the majority of sales at Zenibaku Station. The chance to enjoy Hokkaido's oldest "Ekinama" in its birthplace is not one visitors can easily pass up. So, if you ever pass through the station, be sure to stop and try a taste of history!
(Sake Manju Package)
◇ 有限会社よねた製菓 (Yoneta Confectionary)
North 1 West 1, Ashibetsu
TEL : 0124-22-3462
◇ JR Znibako Station
2 Zenibako 2-Chome, Otaru
★ Single Sake Manju - 105 Yen
★ One Box (6 Sake Manju) - 735 Yen
＊ For more detailed information check out the book “Confectionery Graffiti in Hokkaido” by Toshinobu Tsukada.
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Tetsu)