Portland is known for their odd and quirky Voodoo Donuts – which I’ve been to many a time. Their creations go from the strange to the near pornographic, so are not really for the faint of heart.
Two companies in Japan, however, have gone the other direction to create unbelievably cute donut creations. Ikumimama and Floresta have several shops around Japan, that have made a line of unbelievably cute donut animals. Upon reading about them, I knew I had to find a shop when I was in Japan. Doing that, however, turned out to be a bit more difficult than I first thought.
I searched around and went to one of their stores located just outside a station in Tokyo, but discovered the warning that not all stores carry their animal line was all too true. I then located the next closest one I could find: Koenji. The first time I visited the Koenji Floresta, I was unfortunately greeted with a “Closed for the day” sign. What bad timing. But I came back the next morning, and hit paydirt!
The area around Koenji station is actually a great, quiet suburb. You’ll never find it in any guide books, but walking around in this area was a great insight into normal, everyday Japanese life.
First off there were lots of shops of all varieties as you walk down the narrow walkways. While the streets were wide enough to fit the odd tiny delivery car, almost the entire area was traversed by bicycle or walking. Walking through it was very enjoyable as there were tons of great shops to check out.
The most interesting/cool stores were the groceries. You can tell a lot about a culture by what foods it likes.
There were also fish and other food shops such as nuts.
But there wasn’t just food, there were also other shops that served up all kinds of everyday wares. I love how everything can be made adorable with a few cartoon characters. Even toilet paper.
There were a few interesting restaurants as well – including this “Italian’ pizza place.
This eatery had this adorable character used a number of places on their signage – but I have no idea what it’s supposed to be. Any natives help me sort out what it is/what the kanji says?
While on the topic of cute, the sign for this little hair salon had this tiny doll house. If you looked inside, there was a pretty elaborate dining room scene with tiny animals inside it.
On a more serious note, you could tell this was a real town because they had a funeral and shrine shop that sold everything from markers, incense and funeral clothing. Every culture has it’s ceremonies. I decided to be polite and just observe from the street for a few moments before walking on.
But finally, the whole point of the trip – the donuts!
On this second visit, I finally arrive on a day/time when the shop is open. Good thing I came early too; because they were nearly out of their cute animal donuts. In fact, I bought up 3 of the 4 remaining ones. This meant the selection wasn’t that big, but honestly, scoring their last cat donut was the most awesome thing that could have happened.
I won’t lie – these donuts put the quality of Voodoo donuts to absolute shame. The little ‘squirrel’ ones were particularly well made. The ‘nut’ in their center was a chocolate covered ball of dough that was painted up with two kinds of chocolate. The fluffy ‘tail’ was granola sprinkled around the edge. The ears of all the animals were actual a tiny, delicious nut (1 nut per ear). The donut itself was the very simple cake-like donut not unlike the plain cake/coffee donuts you find here. That said, it was really hard to actually eat these little works of art but I sacrificed one immediately to my hunger god. I saved 2 of them which were the ones I pulled out and made friends with folks at the Albatross bar in Golden Gai. They certainly were a hit.
If you want to walk around an everyday, off-the-beaten-path slice of real Japanese life – I totally recommend a stop and walk around the Koenji station. Get some awesome donuts too – but if you do – call ahead and make sure their both open, and have some in stock!