Did you know that, generally, you shouldn’t walk and eat at the same time in Japan? There are exceptions to this Japanese etiquette rule. Luckily for us, the biggest exception is street food, which you can walk around with and munch on as much as you want. And if you have a sweet tooth, you have plenty of Japanese sweets that you can take on-the-go!
Whether it’s modern favorites like Japanese crepes or wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) like dorayaki, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with any of these options, so read on to learn more about these Japanese treats made for the streets.
Japanese crepes can be super simple or very fancy, like these chocolate and creme brulee crepes, but it's always a handheld experience. Image via Instagram (@fukuoka_naru)
We’re starting off with Japan’s take on a French classic, the Japanese crepe. Japanese crepes take a thinner crepe with crispy edges and wraps it in a cone shape around a variety of tasty fillings. They can be filled with fruit, cheesecake, whipped cream, custard, ice cream and more.
This treat is popular all over Japan, but Harajuku’s Takeshita Street is like the capital of Japanese crepes. On and just off Takeshita Street, you can find plenty of shops with some pretty luxurious crepe options, perfect for Instagram.
Japanese shaved ice is most famous for its portable festival form, but some restaurants offer plenty of bells and whistles for a fancier experience.
Kakigori is a simple summer treat of shaved ice with a tasty, refreshing flavor syrup on top. What’s so special about shaved ice? Well, Japanese shaved ice is well-known for its fluffy, snow-like texture, originally made from ice very finely shaved from ice blocks with a knife.
This treat used to be enjoyed by nobles who had winter ice saved for summer. Now, it’s a common summer treat that helps to cool us off during the hot and humid Japanese summers. Truly a blessed street and festival favorite.
It's always hard to resist the urge to buy these pasty fishes whenever we see or smell them while walking down the street.
Taiyaki is a tasty pastry treat in the unique shape of a fish. But don’t let the fishy appearance fool you. This treat is usually sweet and has a crispy outside and a soft, warm inside with a delicious filling. Fillings for taiyaki include the traditional anko (red bean paste), custard, sweet potato and more.
Based on where you get it, you can even get one with different designs, like anime or video game characters. Making real taiyaki, fish shape and all, takes a special griddle, so you might as well take the time to eat one if you’re ever here in Japan.
Plenty of Japanese and Chinese shops in Japan have gotten creative with the designs of these sweet steamed buns.
Some of you may know about nikuman, a delicious steamed bun filled with meat. We love nikuman, but this list is about Japanese sweets. That’s why we’re going with anman, a steamed bun filled with sweet anko.
The breading of Japanese steamed buns tends to have a bit of sweetness to it anyway, so anman takes it up a notch to create a sweet treat. It’s usually served hot, so it makes for a great snack in winter. That doesn’t stop us from enjoying them in summer too, though. You can find anman at conbinis (Japanese convenience stores) or frozen at supermarkets.
There's something about seeing dorayaki being cooked fresh on a grill that just makes us hungry for the treat. Image via Unsplash
What’s better than a pancake? A pancake sandwich—which is basically what dorayaki is. Well, technically, they’re not pancakes. The outer patties are actually castella, a Portuguese treat that Japan has made its own. These castella patties encase a delicious filling of red bean paste, giving it a unique flavor and sweetness.
Dorayaki originally only had one layer of castella, but it was recreated with its signature two layers. We’re all so happy it did. Speaking of castella…
This treat usually comes in a quick and easy paper bag, so it's a little weird for us to see it in a dish. Image via Instagram (@pinkdiamond7733ip)
Like we mentioned, castella is a cake that was first introduced by Portuguese merchants in Nagasaki. However, Japan made it unique with the use of mizuame, a malt syrup made from glutinous rice or potato starch. We love castella, but the street version of it is not only tasty but also easy to take on-the-go.
Baby castella is just castella baked into smaller, cylindrical shapes that are placed in paper bags and sold. Baby castella is a popular Japanese festival staple and is a favorite of couples and kids. You can even find different flavors like matcha, cocoa and brown sugar!
Daifuku can come in many shapes and sizes, including the shape of cute characters like Pompompurin and Cinnamoroll.
Daifuku is probably one of our favorite wagashi on this list. Daifuku is simple, being mochi stuffed with some kind of sweet filling, usually (you guessed it) red bean paste. While we love the standard red bean daifuku, we really love strawberry daifuku. This type of daifuku has a filling of strawberry wrapped in either anko or shiroan (white bean paste).
Of course, there are plenty of other fillings including ice cream, Japanese pudding, chestnuts and more. The fillings add a bit of variety and extra flavor to the classic sweet mochi flavor.
Candied fruit may not be unique to Japan, but Japan does it so well that it has to be included. Image via Instagram (@tanco_camera)
Candied fruits, specifically candied apples, are not a Japanese creation and has origins in New York and China. Ringo ame (candied apples) are the most popular candied fruit, but Japan offers plenty of other options.
Strawberries, oranges and apricots are all common in Japan, but Amaou strawberries and Japanese mandarin oranges are the most coveted. Plus, Japan tends to use a lighter candy layer compared to American candied fruit, adding the perfect amount of sweetness and crunch to tasty fruit.
While dango is usually a portable snack, you can enjoy a dango course at certain shops.
Hopping back on the mochi train, dango is very similar to mochi. The only difference is that mochi is usually steamed while dango is usually boiled and skewered onto a stick. They also tend to be a bit firmer and smaller. Also like mochi, there are a variety of dango out there.
Some come in different colors, some have green tea flavoring, some have a syrup coating, and some have an anko topping. If you want a slightly more savory version, yaki dango (grilled dango) is a popular and smoky option.
Choco banana stalls have some of the most colorful setups with bananas covered in regular, blue and pink chocolate. Image via Instagram (@mai_ozeki.official)
Chocolate-covered bananas, shortened to the catchy choco banana, is a simple creation of chocolate on bananas. However, Fumio Kobayashi, president of Sakakiya Corporation, takes credit for this sweet treat, according to the Japanese Wikipedia. While chocolate on bananas may not seem groundbreaking, Japanese choco banana is a true feast for the eyes with plenty of color, sprinkles and more. They are another Japanese festival staple and are especially popular with kids and kids at heart.
Yaki-imo is a perfect fall and winter treat. I mean, the color alone matches Japan's gorgeous fall colors. Image via Instagram (@peto003000000)
Yaki-imo is a simple but delicious treat of baked Japanese sweet potato. Unlike American style baked sweet potato, yaki-imo doesn’t come with many bells and whistles. In fact, the majority of people buy it fresh and eat it as is because it’s already soft and creamy with a natural sweetness that doesn’t actually need butter or sugar.
It’s also readily available at some conbinis, the retail chain Don Quijote and at your friendly neighborhood baked potato cart. That’s right! You can sometimes find enterprising folks selling fresh yaki-imo out of a truck, usually with a hot case or other equipment to heat them back up or just keep them nice and hot. And it’s usually very affordable too!
This traditional Japanese treat gives thick pancake vibes, but it feels more like a waffle cake. Image via Instagram (@karmenlu)
If you read our blog about taiyaki, imagawayaki is actually the predecessor of taiyaki. Imagawayaki, sometimes called wheel cake, is a circular cake made of flour, egg, sugar and water with a tasty filling cooked into it. It’s cooked with a special pan where the two halves are cooked, the filling is added to one side, and they are pushed together in the pan to make one whole.
Traditionally, it has a red bean filling, but the fillings can vary these days. Purple sweet potato, shiroan, custard, and even savory options like curry are all popular fillings for this traditional treat. It has a crispy outside and deliciously warm and soft inside, and we live for it.
This may look like a piece of glass or ceramic art, but it's actually candy! Image via Instagram (@amezaiku_yoshiha)
Amezaiku is probably the fanciest entry on our list because of its beauty and the care that goes into making it. Amezaiku is actually candy art where a craftsman uses a starchy syrup, their hands and several tools to make an edible art piece. Makers who use their hands actually have to train their hands to withstand the heat of the syrup.
The process is fascinating to watch, with some artists even making street performances out of their craft. This is actually a part of amezaiku’s history. You see, this treat was first made as a candy offering to the temples of Kyoto during the Heian period. However, the Edo period saw it spread out of temples and to the streets thanks to—that’s right—street performers!
This treat is so beautiful, you won’t want to eat it, but you also have to eat it.That’s our list of Japanese street food sweets! Have you tried any on this list? What are your favorite portable Japanese sweets? Let us know in the comments below!