Baking in Japan

August 21st, 2012By Category: Food & Dining

Aside from running, baking is one of my favourite activities (they go hand in hand: running allows more indulging, and my motivation for running stems from my love of cakes). I’m not quite sure why I’m writing about baking in the midst of the August heat, but I’ve been in slight hibernation mode since returning from Shikoku, and I’ve somehow kept myself occupied with books, magazines, and sweets.

Baking can be rather challenging in Japan, due to the lack of ingredients, required appliances and space, but it’s not impossible and I managed to make it work.

Here is a little guide to baking in Japan.

You can find all the basic baking ingredients at your local supermarket: flour, baking powder, sugar, chocolate chips, butter, milk. Most grocery stores have a small baking section, stocked with tiny bags of cake decorations, cake mixes, as well as cupcake tins. Everything is just a notch smaller and more expensive than back home, but it’s there. Reading some packagings can be difficult if you don’t know how to read kanji characters, but here are some of the staples you can easily locate, as they are written in katakana:

Baking powder


Vanilla essence

I prefer brown sugar

Certain ingredients such a powdered sugar, coconut, cocoa, and other types of flours are only available at import shops, but you can most likely find everything (at a cost!), as Japan does baking extremely well.

Most small apartments in Japan are not equipped with an oven, but you’ll be surprised to find out that most microwaves in Japan double as an oven. There is a button that changes the function to oven, in katakana: オーブン

If not, a toaster oven is a cheap and convenient alternative to a full-size oven. I spent my first year in Shikoku baking tiny cakes and individual cupcakes in my toaster oven. It requires more time and patience, but the result is just as good. You can easily find cake tins of any size (and shape: try heart or star-shaped!) at the supermarket.

Once again, kitchens in most Japanese apartments do not offer much counter space, but that’s the part where you can get creative. I usually would cover the stove with a cutting board and use the extra space, the top of the microwave, a coffee table, or a pile of books. No one has to know…

You can practically re-create any recipe you like, even if you have to adjust the quantities to fit a smaller oven, or substitute ingredients. Unlike cooking, baking does not allow much room for creative measuring, so make sure you calculate everything accordingly. Math never was my strongest skill, but it is necessary for baking.

Here is my favourite cupcake recipe, and it’s very simple to make in Japan.

Buttercream Vanilla Cupcakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon milk

Mix the sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract. Then add the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the batter in individual lined tins, and bake for 17-20 minutes at 180 degrees C. Keep an eye on the cakes, as each oven varies, so stay near!

Buttercream frosting:

2 cups powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons milk

Mix everything together until it becomes light and fluffy, it may take several minutes if you don’t own a mixer, but be strong and patient.

Makes about 12 cupcakes, but feel free to do the math to downsize the recipe.


Author of this article

Vivian Morelli

Vivian Morelli hails from Canada and is a journalist based in Tokyo, where she writes about culture, fashion, food and music. You can read her Japan musings at

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  • Andrew Flower says:

    Do you know where I can find Puff Pastry? I’ve been looking in the super, but can’t seem to find any. I thought it would be by the pizza bases and tortillas.

  • Nick Chou says:

    Ugh this is so helpful. THANK YOU. I don’t just wanna bake sweets but baking seems like a healthier way to cook than the usual frying.

    I’ll check out the oven feature in our oven. Hopefully it’s there T_T Is the button at the front of the oven or at the back?


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