Ginza Matsuzaki Senbei: Winter Designs for Popular “Edo-Gawara” Snack Now Available, Reflecting Seasonal Excitement
What is it about Ginza Matsuzaki Senbei’s lightly sweetened Edo-Gawara senbei (traditional Japanese snacks) that makes them so heartwarming? Their seasonal designs always give us a lot of joy choosing our favorite ones, just like we enjoy selecting our favorite picture postcards at museums to take home.
Kawara senbei (made from wheat), named after the roof tiles (kawara) that were popular during the Edo period (1603–1868), are different from regular senbei in being made of wheat instead of rice. Matsuzaki Senbei‘s most popular version is the shami-do line, which have a slightly rounded oblong shape like the body (do) of a shamisen (Japanese lute).
Founded in Gyoranzaka, Shiba, in 1804, Matsuzaki Senbei has always been known for its delicious senbei. The business’s third owner moved the store across town to Ginza in 1865, and it has become a beloved fixture at its current location near the most famous bustling intersection in the Ginza 4-chome area.
Its shami-do line appears in new designs every season; this year, the change from autumn to winter was in mid-November. The photograph above shows the first four of this year’s winter designs: “Pine,” “Pheasant’s Eye,” “Plum Blossoms,” and “Snow Rabbit.”
The remaining four are “Bamboo,” “Sarcandra Glabra,” “Camellia,” and “Winter Landscape.” Seeing these lined up at the Matsuzaki Senbei store feels like the official arrival of winter!
Although Matsuzaki Senbei has sold kawara senbei since its founding, these evocative, traditional designs were not added until the early Showa period more than a century later. Cooking in designs or drawing them in sugar was a new way to bring a seasonal sensibility—always important for wagashi—to senbei.
The senbei are baked in iron molds, then smoothed individually so that the designs can be drawn on in sugar frosting.
“Shami-do seem to be refreshing even to our younger customers,” says Shuhei Matsuzaki, who returned to the family business eleven years ago to become its eighth official head. “Often, people who are quite familiar with iced cookies haven’t heard of decorated kawara senbei before. I came up with the concept of putting our shami-do on display in a gallery-like space in the basement of our main store. The warmth of the wood and the white walls feel modern to Japanese customers, while traditional to visitors from overseas at the same time.”
Visitors to the “gallery” can choose senbei one by one like postcards, and then have their selection boxed up. The nostalgic Christmas and animal designs are particularly popular as gifts. “We want people of every age to enjoy our senbei,” says Matsuzaki. “That’s why we decorate them, after all. The designs let us reach all kinds of people.”
At the store in Ginza, the fifth head of Matsuzaki Senbei’s favorite mold is on display. He loved it so much that he buried it underground to keep it safe when most of the rest of the iron molds were taken during wartime shortages.
“When I joined the business, I began to feel strongly that it was important to preserve our roots. We don’t try to be different—we just make what’s right for the times,” says Matsuzaki. “Ten or twenty years later, I hope that we can still be part of people’s lives. My role is to lay out the road map to ensure that we’re still here even a century or two from now.”
■ Edo-gawara Koyomi: 8 pcs, 1,080 JPY (including tax)
■ Edo-gawara Shami-do: From 130 JPY each (including tax)
Ginza Matsuzaki Senbei
Address: 5-6-9 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
Business hours: 11:00 am–8:00 pm, Sun–Mon (excluding year’s end/New Year)
Telephone: +81 (0)3-6264-6703
Writer: Ayumi Ichikawa, Chocolate Journalist/Chocolat Coordinator