People

Hikoyuki Yamaguchi×Chisako Takashima

GINZA CONNECTIVE VOL.66

Hikoyuki Yamaguchi×Chisako Takashima

2017.05.01

An interview series featuring Ginza people in conversation with violinist Chisako Takashima. With a special fondness for Ginza, which holds many memories both from her professional and private lives, Takashima explores Ginza from various dimensions with her guests.In this volume, she welcomes Mr. Hikoyuki Yamaguchi, fifth-generation owner of Kuya, the long-established Japanese wagashi (Japanese confectionaries) store famous for Kuya-monaka.

A favorite of Soseki Natsume, the Kuya-monaka sells 8000 every day through reservations.

Takashima
Kuya’s legendary Kuya-monaka* is almost impossible to purchase without a reservation. How many do you make every day? (*monaka: wagashi prepared with azuki bean jam filling sandwiched between two thin crisp wafers made from rice)
Yamaguchi
We make around 8000.
Takashima
8000! That is quite a number! And yet it is so difficult to purchase that it is referred to as being legendary. Is the manufacturing also done at the store in Ginza?
Yamaguchi
Yes. We cook the anko (azuki bean jam filling) and sandwich it between the wafers on the store premises. People are often surprised to learn that they are made in Ginza, but Ginza Fugetsudo, located diagonally across the street from us, and Seigetsudo Honten in Ginza 7-chome also manufacture their products in Ginza. There is actually quite a large variety of wagashi made in Ginza.”
Takashima
I see. I understand that Kuya was established in 1884 (Meiji 17). Could you please tell me about your corporate history and about the origin of your name?
Yamaguchi
As far as I know, our founder had originally worked for the Edo Palace, taking care of the tatami mats there, but he lost his job after the restoration of imperial rule. Just then, he was a member of the Kanto Kuya-shu, an odori-nenbutsu (Buddhist incantation chanting, drumbeating, and dancing) group, of which the owner of Eitaro Sohonpo in Nihombashi was also a member. With his help, Kuya was established in 1884 in Ikenohata in Ueno. Our name was taken from Priest Kuya. Since Ueno was burnt down in the Great Tokyo Air Raid, we relocated to Ginza in 1949 (Showa 24).
Takashima
Have you sold monaka from the very beginning?
Yamaguchi
We have lost almost all materials that would tell us about the pre-war period, but I am pretty certain that they sold monaka back then as well. This because some of Kuya’s most loyal clients included literary masters of the times, and the Kuya-monaka and Kuya-mochi occasionally appear in their works. In Soseki Natsume’s I am a Cat, the Kuya-mochi is served with green tea. Therefore, our store is sometimes introduced in special features on topics such as “Soseki’s favorite stores.”
店舗と同じビル内にある作業場。後ろの大釜であんこを練る

Manufacturing space in the same building as the store. Stirrng anko in the large pot in the back.

もなかであんこを包んでいく

Sandwiching the anko in monaka wafers

空也もなか

Kuya-monaka

Dedicated to selling over the counter under the motto “no credit sales even when sweets sell well”.

Takashima
I have heard that Kuya has a corporate policy, “no “kashi-uri” even when kashi (sweets) sell well.” What do you mean by this?
Yamaguchi
As far as I know, it was the policy of my grandfather, the third-generation owner of the store. “Kashi-uri” means credit sales. Our style of business may appear not to be commercially driven. At Kuya, we do not offer credit sales and accept only cash. Orders are received over the phone or in person at the store and we ask our customers to come to our store to collect their purchase. We do not provide shipping services. We make it a rule to “sell products handmade in the middle of Ginza within a day.”
Takashima
Now that everything has become convenient, I find that traditional style of business very attractive. And you are following the footsteps of earlier generations?
Yamaguchi
I would say so. I suppose I am not determined to make a great amount of profit. Many people may have the image that the Kuya-monaka is rare and therefore expensive, but they are available for only 103 yen a piece.
Takashima
That is quite inexpensive! Is there anything that you lay particular importance upon in terms of your manufacturing methods?
Yamaguchi
We have no secret family recipe that is passed down only from parent to child. “Carefully cook the best ingredients.” That is all there is to it. At Kuya, we do not make confectionaries that require delicate workmanship. Our confenctionaries are rather simple and our customers appreciate the simpleness, which is often referred to as a quality of Edo culture. Therefore, we are dedicated to careful and reliable work, but I believe anyone can make the same products once they set their mind to it (laughs).
Takashima
Oh, I am sure that there is an essence that even you don’t notice. What other kinds of wagashi do you make?
Yamaguchi
We also constantly make six types of namagashi (unbaked wagashi). A namagashi that is available all year round is the Kuya-soshi, which is like a dorayaki, with anko sandwiched between pancakes, only we cut them in squares, in the shape of a book. We also offer seasonal confectionaries. For example, in summertime, we make mizu-yokan (sweet bean jelly) and in wintertime, we make nerikiri (unbaked cake that is made by mixing and kneading its ingredients, mainly white bean jam, refined or glutinous rice flour, sugar and yam).
空也の生菓子

Namagashi sold at Kuya

All List

三笠会館本店/銀座 らん月/GINZA
銀座千疋屋/マロニエゲート銀座みずほ銀行 銀座通支店/
三井住友銀行 銀座支店/Hatsuko(株)天賞堂/
西銀座駐車場/ギンザのサヱグサ/

© Ginza Information Management