SAPPORO Magazine – Issue 01-5: A Long-Established Store, The Challenge of Sapporo Senshuan

Dec 10, 2020

SAPPORO Magazine – Issue 01-5: A Long-Established Store, The Challenge of Sapporo Senshuan


A Long-Established Store; the Challenge of Sapporo Senshuan

As you enter THE KNOT SAPPORO, you see both Sapporo Senshuan and Seicomart. Both companies are incredibly proud of their Hokkaido heritage and focus on using local products. Here, we look at the history and philosophy of the two companies.

Above image: The main store on the first floor of THE KNOT SAPPORO is lined with the same confections that had long ago graced the same spot, in addition to the new merchandise. The much-loved sweets and products with their old-fashioned designs make for a perfect souvenir from Sapporo.

Text by Hiroe Morihiro. Translation by Susie Krieble, Kana Koike, and Ari Murata.
Photos by Tsubasa Fujikura

An honest taste, a flavour that cannot be forgotten

As soon as you open the lid of the snowflake-and-brown-bear adorned retro-style can of the “Yamaoyaji” cookies, the rich scent of butter and egg tickles the tip of your nose. A popular cookie since its release in 1930, Yamaoyaji is now synonymous with Sapporo Senshuan, a long-established confectionery store in Sapporo.

The term yamaoyaji is a local name for the brown bear, a symbol of Hokkaido and its magnificent nature. These Western-influenced biscuits baked with generous amounts of locally produced high-quality butter, milk, and eggs were a luxurious representation of Hokkaido during the early Showa period, a time when Japanese confections like anko (red bean paste) and mochi were commonplace. Nowadays, the timeless taste and elaborate packaging have attracted travellers from all over the world.

“We use only high-quality ingredients to produce the best possible flavour profile, and the water we use is the Sapporo water that flows 90 meters underground. We also work with our hands in order to maximise the delicious taste throughout the whole process. These practices have been passed down from our founder, Shikiji Okabe. The insistence on both the process and high-quality ingredients is how we have remained so popular over the generations,” says the company’s fourth president, Shuko Niwayama, smiling, “We are still faithfully following the original methods of making the sweets.”

“When we first opened, we also sold cream puffs and Sapporo’s first sweet potato cakes, much to the delight of Sapporo locals. We carry on the spirit of our founder by boldly taking on new challenges to create delicious sweets for our customers.” The craftsmen—guided by a perfect blend of traditional skills with innovation—to date have produced 4,000 recipes, including 1,000 of which are registered trademarks.

Persistent efforts and a challenging spirit

Shikiji Okabe, the founder of Sapporo Senshuan, was born to a farming family in Gunma Prefecture, and when he was 12 years old, was sent to be an apprentice at a Japanese confectionery store in Tokyo. Having a determined personality combined with an unparalleled dexterity, he grew quickly into the craftsman he became famous as. His big break came in 1918 when he was invited to a small confectionary company called Senshuan based in Otaru, a town near Sapporo, to make a commemorative sweet marking the 50th anniversary of Hokkaido for the Hokkaido Expo. His handiwork was recognised immediately, and three years later, he was given the right to open a shop of the same name in Sapporo. Okabe, who became the owner of this new shop, devoted himself day and night to honing his skills and making sweets. In the planning stages of creating delicate jonamagashi (sweets served at tea ceremonies), he drew sketches to inspire and shape his work. Such a labour-intensive work ethic remained unchanged for the rest of his life, and in 1972, this was recognised by the Government, who selected him as one of its chosen few “Contemporary Master Craftsman”. He is the first ever confectioner to have been chosen.

Since 1930, the Yamaoyaji cookies from Sapporo Senshuan have been wildly popular. The black, retro-style tin is instantly recognisable which is covered in snowflakes, a white birch bark pattern, and drawings of Hokkaido’s symbolic brown bear.

Looking to the past to discover the new, a door for the next generation

It has been 100 years since Sapporo Senshuan was founded in Sapporo and whereTHE KNOT SAPPORO now stands is the original site of Sapporo Senshuan. On April 24 2020, ahead of the opening of the hotel, Sapporo Senshuan marked a new chapter by opening its brand new main store on the first floor of the hotel. The store has kept the underground water well which became a symbol of the old store, and is taking on new challenges under the theme of “Experience and Excitement”. Among them is the chance to taste a freshly-baked North Man pie, which has been stealing hearts and mouths for generations.

“The harmony between the crispy texture of the shell and the soft, hot adzuki bean paste is the hallmark taste of North Man, which until now was known only to those who worked in the factory. The delicate taste that has been perfected since its founding can now be enjoyed in a whole new way.”

In addition to the confectionary, the new store has a section called KUMA-NO-KOMONO-YA where original merchandise can be purchased. The famous bear motif from the Yamaoyaji sweets appears on items such as handkerchiefs, masking tape, and coin purses. “The seamlessly woven, custom-made purses are each finished by hand. As with our confections, these small items have been carefully made, and are designed to last a long time.” Niwayama, the company’s first female president, has already begun to make her mark on the company’s legacy.

Sapporo Senshuan Main Store
Minami 3-jo, Nishi 3-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
Tel. +81-11-205-0207
10:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Senshuan Website