Ningyo-yaki (人形焼) is a very popular Tokyo snack and souvenir that originated from the Nihonbashi-Ningyocho district, famous for its 7 lucky god shrines. It is a soft sweet cake with anko (sweet azuki beans) inside. Ningyo-yaki usually come in the shape of the Shichifukujin, the traditional 7 lucky gods in Japan. They also used to come in the shape of the faces of famous Japanese puppets. From the Taisho period (1912-1926), other shapes such as the great lantern of the Kaminarimon gate of the Senso-ji temple and the 5-storey pagoda started to appear in Asakusa. The story goes that someone who learned the trade in Ningyo-cho opened his own store in Asakusa and introduced these new shapes. Nowadays any shape is possible, such as popular children’s characters such as Doraemon and Hello Kitty.
Ningyo-yaki has the same origins as its cousin the taiyaki, namely imagawayaki (今川焼き) that was made near the Imagawa bridge in Edo at the end of the 18th century. The main difference if that ningyo-yaki is soft and small, while taiyaki is large and crispy.
A small packet of ningyo-yaki I bought at Shigemori Eishindo
It became a very popular Tokyo souvenir and is widely available in the Asakusa area that is catering to tourists. Strangely, you cannot find that many shops in Ningocho, where it came from. On my visit to the area I came across the following two shops when walking from the direction of Suitengu Shrine.
1. Shigemori Eishindo
This store is around since the late 1920s at this location in Ningyo-cho, but was actually first established in 1917 in Shinshu (that shop does not exist anymore). They have now 12 branch stores all over Tokyo (and one in Ibaraki prefecture), so you will be able to get your portion of ningyo-yaki at various locations.
It is difficult to walk past this store with its large signboard (in Japanese) and very large counter that is covering one whole corner of the crossing with at the other side the Suitengu Shrine. When I visited on a weekend there were a lot of people lining up to buy ningyo-yaki, but I did not have too wait too long before being served as they were serving with quite a number of people at the same time. Please note you cannot enter the store itself, so you have to stay on the street. However, you can look behind the counter to see the ningyo-yaki being made.
They make everyday about 3000 ningyo-yaki, on popular days that is sometimes even 10.000.
The counter at Shigemori Eishindo, with one the left side the craftsmen making the ningyo-yaki
2-1-1 Nihonbashiningyocho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Suitengumae Station – 1 minute walk (Hanzomon line)
Ningyo-cho Station – 4 minutes walk (Hibiya line)
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 9:00-20:00. Closed on Sunday. When Day of the Dog coincides with a “lucky day” (大安) on a Sunday (according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar), the store is open on Sunday, but will be closed on the following Monday. The next time this happens is Sunday 19 November 2017 (so the store will be closed on 20 November)
Cost for one ningyo-yaki: JPY 130
Anything special when ordering? You can order a wide variety of ningyo-yaki, in various shapes and with several flavors. The basic one is the “Nishian” type. If you do not like anko at all, you can buy here also Castella-yaki (カステラ焼), one costs JPY 30.
Web: http://www.shigemori-eishindo.co.jp/shop/ (in Japanese)
Name in Japanese: 重盛永信堂
The second store I passed by sports a large display of wooden shichifukujin statues. This shop was established at the end of the Meiji period (1968-1912) in 1907 and since the recipe has not been changed. They make everyday about 1500 ningyo-yaki. They make 6 types of the shichifukujin, apparently they left out Fukurokuju. Apart from these plain ningyo-yaki, they have other types as well as the store above.
The shop front of Itakuraya.
2-4-2 Nihonbashiningyocho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Ningyo-cho Station – 1 minute walk (Hibiya line) (right at exit A1)
Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 8:00-21:00 (or until all products are sold out). Closed on Sunday and Public holidays.
Cost for one ningyo-yaki: JPY 100
Anything special when ordering? Just ask for one, or get a box of 5 (for JPY 500)
Name in Japanese: 板倉屋