Among the many kinds of tasty sweets indigenous to Japan, you’ll find the monaka. Monaka consist of two wafers, traditionally sandwiched around a dollop of the sweet red bean paste called anko.
Different confectioners put their own unique spin on monaka, such as infusing it with citrus or mixing ice cream in the filling. But while we’ve eaten plenty of variations on the tasty treat, our intrepid reporter Mr. Sato recently brought back one we’d never heard of before: suicide monaka.
Technically, Mr. Sato’s morbidly-named snacks are called seppuku monaka, with seppuku being the more respectful term for the practice of self-disembowelment more commonly known in the west as hara-kiri. But how did these sweets end up with a name associated with the samurai way of expressing your bitterest regrets?
The seppuku monaka are made by Shinshodo, a confectionary shop established more than 100 years ago. Shinshodo is located in Tokyo’s Shimbashi district. While the neighborhood now contains the head offices of several of Japan’s largest and most powerful corporations, long ago Shimbashi served as the home to a different group of powerful leaders: the samurai lords of Japan’s Edo Period.
▼ Shinshodo’s storefront
Before Shinshodo opened its doors, the plot of land where it now stands was part of the estate of Lord Tamura Tatsuaki. Aside from being Tamura personal residence, the estate was also where another famous samurai, Asano Nagahiro, former lord of Ako Domain (near present-day Kobe) was forced to commit seppuku following a violent dispute with Kira Yoshinaka, another samurai lord, in the halls of the Shogun’s castle. Asano’s retainers would later avenge their master by killing Kira, and then committing seppuku themselves, with the events now being known as the tale of the 47 Ronin.
But enough talk about 50 or so people putting swords in their bellies. Let’s get back to talking about putting food in your stomach!
Sadly, Shinshodo missed a great marketing opportunity by not selling the seppuku monaka in packs of 47. Instead, they come in boxes of 5, 10, 15, or 20, although you can also purchase a single seppuku monaka for 190 yen (US$1.80).
Monaka are often dainty things, with the wafer being as much of an attraction as the filling. The seppuku monaka are far less skimpy with the anko though, as there’s so much threatening to spill out that the wafers aren’t even close to forming a complete shell.
Speaking of the anko, it’s incredibly glossy, making the seppuku monaka all the more enticing.
Despite the decadent appearance, the anko isn’t overpoweringly sweet, and quickly melts in your mouth. There’s even a small mocha rice cake concealed inside, the chewiness of which makes for a great contrast to the crispiness of the wafers. The overall effect is surprisingly elegant and delicate, especially considering the confectionary’s shocking name.
Not all of Shinshodo’s creations have such dark inspirations, as the shop also sells prosperity monaka.
Shaped like a koban (the oblong golden coins used during Japan’s feudal age), the prosperity monaka’s portion of anko isn’t nearly as generous as that of the seppuku monaka. However, the coin-shaped sweets come seasoned with brown sugar for an additional good economic omen. Brown sugar is called kokutou in Japanese, literally “black sugar,” and the hope is that whoever eats the prosperity monaka will end up “in the black” for the current fiscal year.
However, when you need to say “I’m sorry,” the seppuku monaka are really the best choice. For those of you who are looking for pointers on how to beg for forgiveness Japanese-style, we’ve put together this illustrated guide featuring Mr. Sato apologizing for a recent work-related blunder.
▼ Step one: Get down on your knees
▼ Step two: Prostrate yourself
▼ Make sure to keep your face pressed into the floor, and your peace offering raised towards the target of your apology.
▼ Step three: Confirm the sincerity of your regret by silently bearing the shame as your counterpart steps on your head and relieves you of the seppuku monaka.
Don’t worry, Mr. Sato. We forgive you, and look forward to more of your zany schemes in the future. And as long as you say you’re sorry with desserts, we hope they all end in glorious, delicious failure.
Shinshodo / 新正堂
Address: Tokyo, Minato-ku, Shimbashi 4-27-2
Open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Closed Sundays and holidays (closed Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays during August)
[ Read in Japanese ]