Traditional Japanese Senbei rice crackers are normally made of rice and are salty, but Kawara Senbei are made of flour, eggs and sugar, very much like sweet cookies. Although there are many varieties in different shapes and sizes today, the original shape of Kawara Senbei looks like a roof tile, which is what Kawara means in Japanese.
Each region that produces and markets its own Kawara Senbei has its own idea of how it the cracker came about. One of the theories is that Sasuke Matsui, the founder of Kameido in Kobe, got the idea from the Western cookies brought to the port of Kobe in 1873. He then named them Kawara because his hobby was to collect roof tiles. Another story comes from a competitor in Kobe named Kamenoi-Kameido; Their belief is that Kobo-daishi, a famous Buddhist monk, brought Kawara Senbei back from his travels to China. Senbei were presented as a gift to seek donations for roof tiles during the construction of Mizukawa shrine. The name Kawara may be based on a wartime ritual where the name of the lord who conquered a region was stamped on the area’s houses’ roof tiles as a sign of his ownership of the land.
Although their origin is a bit of a mystery, Tokyo has many stores that have inherited the Kobe tradition of selling Kawara Senbei. The most romantic Kawara Senbei shop can be found in Kagurazaka. Its name is Kameido. When Sasuke Matsui came to Tokyo from Kobe to display his Kawara Senbei at the Tokyo Exposition, he met Waka Kuraki, a woman known for her beauty within the neighborhood of Yushima, and fell in love! However, Waka did not want to leave Tokyo in order to join him in Kobe. So Sasuke promised her that he would open a new store in Ueno, Tokyo and asked her to marry him. He opened the first Tokyo Kameido shop (Ueno Kameido today) in 1890 and the couple happily tied the knot.
The subtly sweet and flavorful Kawara Senbei are also good with coffee and tea. This makes them a popular souvenir among foreign visitors. They come in a plain original version or with icing as well. They can be customized to add names, words, and company logos for any special occasions upon request, thus making them a nice special gift for your loved ones.
1-9-1 Marunouchi Chiyoda-ku Tokyo
Tokyo Metropolitan Government
2-8-1 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku-ku Tokyo