In anime land it often seems like every day is pancake day, with any old shopping excursion or school trip winding up at a crêpe stand. But each craving you’ve endured in seeing a mountain of whipped cream and strawberries bursting from its light, fluffy, comfortably handheld confines is all thanks to Japan’s love of a fancy French snack.
The country as a whole adores the elegance of French cuisine, from foie gras to mille-feuille, but the crêpe has earned a special place as a symbol of cuteness. As soon as you see the extent to which restaurants and stands alike up the adorable factor with their names, décor and soft, squidgy pinkness, it’s easy to understand why so many loveable anime girls can be seen with the sweets in hand.
Here, though, another question is raised. Where did Japan’s distinctive way of eating crêpes in cones come from, anyway? It goes back to Tokyo’s very first crêpe shop, opened in Harajuku in 1977. There, instead of dining refined at table with a knife and fork, customers were served their pancakes in paper, encouraging them to grab a snack and go on exploring ‘Juku’s quirky clothing stores, cosplay shops and boutiques. Coming out of the core of Japan’s fashion scene, it’s unsurprising that crêpes Harajuku-style became a craze. But this best kind of trend, simple and functional, had some serious staying power.
So we arrive at the all-seasons eatings reflected in dreamy-soft anime, where CLANNAD’s Mei and Maidragon’s Kanna pick up a treat to accentuate their lightness and innocence. It’s the perfect excuse for an indirect kiss in a rom-com situation too, Toradora!’s Taiga sharing hers with Yuusaku – then shoving the whole lot down bystander Ryuji’s gullet in an act of extreme cringe reflex.
Despite the French original encasing both sugary and savoury fillings, Japan like their crêpes on the sweet side, popular combos including chocolate and banana, spicy cinnamon apple and even cheesecake-style fillings with fruit or jam and cream cheese. Nonetheless, certain shops or stands will offer up the savoury sort, with tuna mayonnaise, shrimp, chicken or, that other eternal favourite, curry.
Since becoming a popular street food, crêpes can be found all over Japan; at baseball and soccer games, festivals and, of course, in Harajuku. Takeshita Street in particular is paved with stands to cater to every sweet tooth, and though few will offer seating, some will hand out plastic spoons to keep the treat as dainty as possible. Then you’re free to stop at a bench and take in the scenery, or carry on window shopping as you please, all while chowing down in the spirit of your chosen waifu or best girl. Bon appetit!