Business operator: Sanjuen Co., Ltd.
Project manager: Yusuke Kainuma
Sanjuen Co., Ltd.’s mitarashi dango are made using rice flour and soy sauce, both of which are produced in Aichi Prefecture, as well as sugar and trehalose, and they are additive free. The ingredients are simple, as is the cooking method: rice flour is kneaded, steamed and shaped into balls that are placed on skewers and grilled. The dango are then dipped in a special sauce.
The grilling process affects the texture of the dango, and this is where craftsmanship comes to the fore. An infrared grill is used to heat the dango for around 5 to 10 minutes. Reversing the top end and bottom end of the skewered dumplings are kept at a minimum so that they cook slowly and all the way through. This produces a melt-in-the-moth sensation while retaining the original chewiness brought about by the rice flour.
In addition, three years ago Sanjuen released to the market a brightly colored dango featuring petit vert, which is certified as a special product by the local Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) Aichi Bito. Petit vert also is used in school lunches in the region and is well-known to local people. But it can only be harvested once a year and a large part of the vegetable is inedible. Development of the new dango, which offsets all of this, has been a project unique to Sanjuen, contributing to the mission of helping farmers to raise earnings and forging relationships with the local community.
Yume Matsuri rice produced at the company’s own rice fields and Aichi no Kaori rice made in Aichi Prefecture are ground up by the local JA to be used in the dango. The coarsely ground rice blended with finely ground rice flour make for melt-in-the-mouth dango that are both filling and deliciously chewy. Although dango are typically eaten on the day of purchase, Sanjuen has conceived of a production method that ensures the dango stay soft for more than a day.
The soy sauce used for the dango is tamari soy sauce made in the prefecture and it is one of the key features behind the delicious flavor. tamari soy sauce, generated in the production process of miso (fermented soybean paste), is predominantly manufactured in Aichi Prefecture. Compared with light soy sauce from the Kansai area and dark soy sauce from the Kanto area, tamari has a rich aroma and flavor. The soy sauce has become a key ingredient in the Sanjuen flavor, sought after by local consumers for 150 years.
Powdered petit vert
Petit vert is a vegetable made specially in Toyoake-shi that is sold in upscale supermarkets throughout Japan. The powdered version of the vegetable has a slight aroma reminiscent of powdered green tea, or matcha. The powder is kneaded into the dango, giving it a bright green coloring, with the slightly bitter taste drawing out the sweetness. It’s especially popular among people in Taiwan who are highly conscious about healthy and organic eating.
White and green dango
In Japan, refreshing green colors are called “new green,” likened to plants in spring that have started to bud. dango containing petit vert (right) are imbued with this new green color. dango made using only rice flour on the other hand are a pure white color reminiscent of snow and provide a sense of elegance. In Taiwan, where consumers are less enthused by the grilled coloration, the color of the dango is more vivid.
Takanori Inagaki was born in Toyoake-shi and is currently 36 years of age. After graduating from a specialty confectionery school in Kyoto, he spent six years training at Les Frères Moutaux, a confectionery and bread store. He took over Sanjuen as the sixth generation after learning a spirit of production to never forget to show respect to people involved in the making of the confectionery, right down to the suppliers of ingredients.
Japanese confectionery (wagashi) always accompanies the life stage of Japanese people, such as issho mochi (rice cakes), a present celebrating new life; rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves (kashiwa mochi), which are eaten on the Boys’ Day festival; and rice cakes roasted and hardened with starch syrup (okoshi).
Sanjuen brought wagashi into Taiwan in response to a growing appetite for Japanese food and culture amid an affinity toward Japan among its people. “When we tested the waters in Taiwan, we made a demonstration sale to show what dango dumplings were by grilling them on the spot. They proved to be a huge hit, and we knew then that there was major potential,” explains Takanori Inagaki of Sanjuen. “Our philosophy of building long-term bonds went down well with the Taiwanese, who also deeply respect relationships, and this helped us sow the seeds for our business.” A local staff member had the following to say in a passionate letter: “I now understand the joy of making the customer happy. If you ever open a store in Taiwan, I’d love to work there.”
The company is conscious of introducing its dango on Instagram and has developed dango that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye by whipping up the red bean jam like Western confectionery and utilizing eye-catching packaging. In the future, Sanjuen hopes to invite tourists from overseas to Toyoake-shi and offer them unique experiences that include making dango and nerikiri dough.
dango are carefully made so as not to be too hard or too soft. Slight differences in moisture content due to the characteristics or freshness of the type of rice are adjusted for by using experience gained in the production of wagashi such as adding water or kneading harder or more softly. In 2018, the second year since opening a store outside Japan, extra value was added to the packaging. Two different styles of boxes have been designed: one using a Japan-themed wood grain pattern and one in the image of a box of chocolates or a jewelry box in which the content is visible.
Petit vert, which originated in France, is produced specially in Toyoake-shi. The temperate humid climate helps the leaves stretch outward ahead of harvest time in winter. Also, the rice produced in the extensive rice paddies of the region is cultivated mainly in two varieties: Aichi no Kaori, which is representative of Aichi Prefecture, and Yume Matsuri, which gives a big yield and is resistant to strong wind.
Sanjuen Co., Ltd.
The name of the store, “Sanjuen,” is a pun in Japanese of “San-ju-no-en (“three kinds of bonds”)” — bonds within the family, bonds between the community and Sanjuen and bonds among customers. By holding dear the ties it has with people, Sanjuen has been in business for more than 150 years since the end of the Edo Period (1603–1868). With Western confectionery added to the store’s lineup since the previous generation, Sanjuen has been making confectionery that is an integral part of the lives of people.
34 Nishi no Kaido, Ano-cho, Toyoake-shi, Aichi