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Iiyama's Winter Specialty
Banana Boats - an Analysis and Comparison

Neat rows of "Banana Boats" fill the display cases of traditional Japanese sweet shops, brightening the snow-covered streets of Iiyama.
Why is it that traditional Japanese confectioners start making Western style sweets with bananas in winter?
There are clear differences in recipes and taste between each shop.
I've visited 12 confectioners to delve into their delicious secrets.

Hello! I'm Banabo!
Born and bred in a Japanese sweet shop, I'm an Iiyama kid through and through. Don't be decieved by my looks though - I have substance, and I'm "not as sweet as I look"! I'd like to introduce you to my friends, the Iiyama speciality - Banana Boats!

What are these mysterious Banana Boats?

  1. Mystery No 1.Why do they only appear in winter? Banana Boats were created in a Japanese sweet shop before there was a single western confectionary shop in Iiyama. As Japanese sweets don't require refridgeration, the shop didn't have a sufficient refrigeration system; and so the production of Banana Boats was limited to winter.
  2. Mystery No 2.When were they created? There is no concrete record of who invented it when, but several confectioners claim Banana Boats came about in 1970s.
  3. Mystery No 3.Is it true Banana Boats aren't too sweet? Banana Boats are definitely a sweet, but each shop has mastered various techniques and secrets to creating something truly delicious - nothing sickly sweet!
  4. Mystery No 4. Is there a Banana Boat theme song? There is a legend that the name comes from the 1957 hit, Hamamura Michiko's cover of Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat".
  5. Mystery No 5.Why is it so popular with skiers? Good for one-handed eating, full of banana's nutrition and satisfyingly filling, during the ski boom they are known for "flying off the shelves"

12 Sweets Masters tell all! What makes your Banana Boat special?

1 Daikokuya Confectionaries Master Mr. Shinichi Sato For Shop and Product Details:

So Master, I hear you've also trained as a Western pastry chef?

Yeah, a long time ago now. That's why once a year, at Christmas, I would bake cakes. About 50 years ago, there just weren't any cake shops around here. One time, I came across a demonstration sale for Swiss roll cakes at a department store. I started thinking this would make another great winter-only treat to go alongside the Christmas cakes. I wrapped the Swiss roll cake around a banana and came up with the Banana Boat.

I see! So it was originally a Swiss roll cake.

Some stores cook them like omelettes, but our cakes are baked in a Castella tin and then sliced. Because we make them inbetween our Wagashi, or Japanese style sweets, we can only make a hundred per day. Thanks to the local community's love for them they usually sell out by lunchtime.

There's a sign saying "Banana Boat"out the front.

Around October, my customers start asking whether it's Banana Boat season yet, so I decided to let everyone know with this sign. It feels like winter's here when that sign goes up, and that it's spring when it comes down. It's fine that some sweets are available all year round, but I want to keep the tradition of appreciating seasonality through sweets.

2 Kyokoya Master Mr. Noboru Ogino For Shop and Product Details:

This Banana Boat has a crepe as well as a sponge cake all rolled up!

Yep, this has been our way for years. The multiple layers of crepe, sponge cake, and fresh cream wrapped around a banana. It's some 30 years ago now, during my apprentienceship in France (joking!), that I learned how to make them.

The crepe adds a great texture. Do you only make them in winter too?

Yeah, until about mid-April. Fresh cream and bananas are too easy to spoil in hot weather. Because of it's popularity with the ski crowd, we sell the most around New Year's. We made so many back in the ski boom!

What beverage would you recommend to have with a Banana Boat?

I guess coffee or tea because it's a western sweet. I personally prefer Shochu, or Japanese spirits, though!

3 Miyoshiya Confectionaries Master Mr. Toshiaki Miyazawa For Shop and Product Details:

I heard Miyoshiya has a long history. How many generations has it been around for?

My father was the 3rd generation Master, and I'm the 4th. My great-grandfather established this place as a Japanese confectionary shop in the Meiji period, and we only started making western cakes maybe 30 years ago. I remember when I was in primary school, in winter our display cases will be filled with Christmas cakes, short cakes, and always next to them, Banana Boats.

You've been eating them since you were a kid!

It's only recently I realised that this affinity for Banana Boats is a particular Iiyama characteristic. I thought it was like a strawberry shortcake - a household favourite all across Japan!

So the Banana Boat recipe has been passed on for generations. Have you added your own touch?

The basic process it the same. But I've brought in my experiences from apprenticeships at western sweet shops in flavouring the cream and baking the sponge cake. The fundamental charm of the Banana Boat is it's simplicity. I hope it stays an accessible favourite for generations to come.

4 Fukudaya Confectionaries Master Mr. Yoshio Kobayashi For Shop and Product Details:

Whoa, the Banana Boat at Fukudaya is huge!

People seeing it for the first time are often shocked and have no idea what it is. But for it's size it's surprisingly easy to finish. I often hear back from customers that they initially thought "I'll just have half"… and ending up devouring the whole thing.

Do you bake your sponge cake in a round tin?

We started making these around in 1975, and at that time we just happened to have an aluminium tin at just the right size. We used it to bake them one by one, so we can give each cake sufficient attention. My son has apprenticed at western sweet shops though, so when he makes them his way, he uses a proper sponge cake tin.

Are most of your costomers skiers?

It's not so pronounced recently, but before we'd be making 800 over New Year's and couldn't even visit the shrine! The good thing about Banana Boats is that they're Namagashi, or raw sweets, but not the charactersitic high maintanance sweet. You can pop them in a pocket, or eat them in a car. I hope it stays accessible option amongst all the other Namagashi.

Kirakudo Master Mr. Atsushi Ogawa For Shop and Product Details:

Kirakudo is renowned for the "Chiyo no Ume"(Eternal Plum) sweet. Why did you decide to make Banana Boats?

Since my great-grandfather established this shop and it's star, "Chiyo no Ume", the focus had been traditional Japanese Wagashi and Wagashi only. Western sweets was something I gradually started, brought back from my experiences working in Tokyo. We didn't make Banana Boats straight away - we started making them maybe 20 years ago. Omelettes are a classic western dessert, and our overall creation process sticks to the traditions. I cook the cakes one by one on a hot griddle.

The golden brown colour looks so tempting. What beverage would you have with it?

It is a traditional sweet after all, so how about tea?

I heard your other western sweets are really popular too!

Depending on the day, we make everything from profitteroles to Swiss rolls. I guess our customers are mostly young mothers and their children.

Janquugo Wakakiya Master Mr. Ryuuichi Kobayashi For Shop and Product Details:

What's a Banana Boat?

I guess it's most commonly an inflatable ride. There are quite a few people who tell me they've been on one! But in Iiyama it's something to eat.

Oh, there are raisons inside!

That's right. We started making Banana Boats for the Jihoten exhibition, but by this time there were a lot of shops with established recipe, so we experimented with many arrangements. We thought this way, using 2 types of cream, was the best. It's a pattiserie's Banana Boat, with the classic Omelette shape. It's full of cream so it might be the softest out of the lot.

Can you eat Janquugo Banana Boats all year round?

How many we make depends on the day, but we do make it all year around because we're a cake shop. Come have a peak in warmer weather - if we have the flag out, Banana Boats are on sale.

St. Laurent Chef Ms. Masami Hirano For Shop and Product Details:

The bananas in the Saint Lorent Banana Boats are whole!

Yes. And for the cake, we use the local Nanohana Miyuki eggs, so it's very light and fluffy. We smother it in fresh cream and top it with, you got it, an entire Banana.

It has such a gentle taste! I think even a small child could devour the whole thing.

Though we only started officially selling them at the Jihoten Festival, the first time we actually made Banana Boats was at the request of the local kindergarten. We still only sell them in winter.

So the yellow flag is our signal.

Yeah, a lot of our repeat customers come in after spotting our flag. I thought it was a sweet widely available across Japan, but this time we started producing them I realised it's a distinctively Iiyama favourite.

Patisserie Hirano Master Mr. Shinichi Hirano For Shop and Product Details:

When was the Hirano Banana Boat established?

The Confectioner's Union opened a Banana Boat Café at the Jihoten last year (2013). It's since then, really. They were originally limited to winter, but we start selling them in early October because that's when the annual Jihoten is held.

You use two types of cream.

That's right. There's the condensed milk cream and the custard cream. They aren't too sweet or rich though, and that might be why people find it light. We don't take bookings, but we can reserve a few if you give us a call!

What are Banana Boats to the people of Iiyama?

Hmm, it's the integral Iiyama teatime snack. It's not as fancy as actual cake, so it's accessible. I've been asked to go to primary schools, to make it with the kids in class!

Agematsu Confectionaries Master Mr. Takeshi Agematsu For Shop and Product Details:

I hear you actually used to make Banana Boats ages ago!

Years ago, I had the opportunity to learn how to make them from a pastry chef who came to Iiyama, all the way from Nagano. This time when we started producing them again, we've used the same methods, to keep that same taste. I guess to me Banana Boats taste like nostalgia.

You have a yellow Banana Boat flag outside your shop!

Yep, this is the flag we made at the Confectioner's Union, and a lot of people come in for Banana Boats when they see it. It's so yellow and bright, it just jumps out at you!

When do you sell Banana Boats?

Hmm, only really during winter, because we specialise in Wagashi, or Japanese sweets, after all. We usually make them until March, but it's really up to the weather and how long it stays cold!

Baigetsu Confectionaries Master Mr. Hiroyoshi Takahashi For Shop and Product Details:

What's a Mochigashi shop's Banana Boat like?

Being a Mochigashi place, or rice cake confectionary shop, we didn't originally make western sweets. But we decided that if we're going to go all out and make them, our Banana Boats should be different. That's why we use rice flour in our cakes. It makes them very moist. It's a texture you'd only really find in a Mochi shop!

Very true! And it looks like a very pretty half-moon.

We bake it on a round plate. I think the semicircle shape might be why it's called a "Banana Boat"!

What beverage will you recommend to have with a Baigetsu Banana Boat?

I'd say coffee for western sweets, but try the mochigashi Banana Boat with green tea.

The simplicity showcases unique characteristics!! Here's how to make your own Banana Boat.

  1. Make your cake The cake is where the creator's originality and innovation and shine. The shops use various methods - baking them in the oven, cooking them thinly on a griddle, or even layering Castella style cakes with crepes.
  2. Prepare your banana The star of the show, the pursuit of the perfect banana starts with the selection of optimum ripeness, and includes how you decide to slice and present them. Most shops slice a small banana into shape.
  3. Smother it with cream Most shops take care to use reduced-fat cream that isn't sweetened too much. The cake is covered with cream, and then topped with bananas, but the amount is up to the discerning chef.
  4. Roll it Roll the cake, the cream and the banana, using cling wrap, baking paper or a sushi rolling mat. Depending on the cake, the final product can form diffent shapes - a folded semicircle, an Omellete, or a boomerang.

Table of analysis and comparison by shop

Price Characteristic Comment Shop
Daikokuya Confectionaries Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 1149
New Year's (Jan 1st & 2nd)
240yen Said to be the original Iiyama Banana Boat, these cakes are baked in a large square pan, then sliced and wrapped around a banana, giving it it's distinctive shape. The fluffy cake and fresh cream come together delightfully. The sophisticated taste comes from a hint of liquor in the cream. The oil paintings that decorate the shop are painted by the Master. Another masterpiece, the "Fuku Monaka": lucky red bean paste in wafers, is also very popular.
Kyokoya Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 3074
(Dec~Mar 〜18:00) Closed:New Year's (Jan 1st & 2nd)
250yen Living up to it's namesake, the realistic appearance of the Kyokoya Banana Boat is achieved by layering a round cake with a thin crepe. Bite through the layers of banana, cream, cake and crepe of this satisfying treat. The texture of the crepe will keep you coming back! Located in front of the Mayumi Takahashi Doll Museum, this established Wagashi shop has been producing Iiyama's favourite sweets for over 300 years!
Miyoshiya Confectionaries Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 3295-3
Closed:Tuesdays (Open on public holidays)
240yen Fresh cream is smothered on a delicately soft, sliced cake, enveloping diagonally-cut banana slices. The fine texture of the cake, the delicate cream, and the simplicity of the banana come together to reflect the gentle sensitivity of the young Master. The showcases boast both western and Japanese sweets. Try the sweet named after ancient, demonic warrior Kojima Yataro - it's pretty wicked.
Fukudaya Confectionaries Address:Iiyama City, Ichinokuchi Iiyama 3387
Closed:Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday
240yen Each cake is carefully baked in the legendary aluminium tin, then wrapped around an entire banana and copious low fat fresh cream. The cake is perfectly moist, and the abundant cream is surpisingly not too rich. Each bite will delight you with it's gentle wholesomeness. One hundred years since establishment, Fukudaya has always dilligently pursued new sweets that embody the Iiyama spirit.
Honey Comb Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 1167
Closed:Sundays, New Year's (Jan 1st & 2nd)
250yen Slicing their cakes baked in round tins, Honey Comb selects bananas that are a little firm and not too sweet; using the smoothness of the cream to bring out the flavours. The bakery's number one concern is the safety and freshness of their ingredients. The resulting dessert has a gentle, natural falvour, and makes a wholesome snack, a favourite for children. The scent of freshly baked bread welcomes you into the tiny, but locally-loved bakery.
Kirakudo Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 1201-2
Closed:New Year's (Jan 1st)
230yen Spreading the batter in thin circles on a hot griddle, each cake is cooked individually in the classic Omelette style until they are firm and golden brown. Though the cake is fluffy, the firmer bite is very satisfying, and the fresh cream pairs well with the banana's natural sweetness. Iiyama's own classic sweet, "Chiyo no Ume", was created in this little shop. The interior is full the Mrs' collection of potted plants.
Janquugo Wakakiya Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 3152-1
Closed:Mondays, New Year's (Jan 1st)
324yen Folded over like a classic Omelette cake, a round sponge cake is topped with lashings of two types of cream - custard and fresh; within which lies the star banana. The custard cream and fresh cream gives this dessert serious oomph, and the sprinkling of raisons throughout provide an element of surprise. Each exciting bite is sure to be delightful. The showcases are filled with seasonal flavours, reflected in both their selection of western-style and Japanese-style sweets.
Saint Laurent Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 146
250yen Using local Nanohana Miyuki eggs, the lightness, softness and fluffiness of the cake is unparalleled, and heaped with pure fresh cream. Wrapped around an entire, whole banana, the unsweetened cream balances the Castella style cake for a fresh and light treat. This established patisserie is renouned for the regional speciality, "Oheryo Pie"- filled with mung bean paste & chestnuts, red bean paste & walnuts or even Sakura paste in springtime.
Patisserie Hirano Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 2228
Closed:Wednesdays, New Year's (Jan 1st)
300yen Baked in a large sheet, the cake batter is infused with maple syrup and topped with a double attack of condensed milk cream and custard cream. Maple syrup adds a fragrance and moistness to the cake, which is complimented by the not-too-sweet double dream. A cake shop with an adjacent café, be sure too check out their display cabinet for their abundant selection of baked treats.
Agematsu Confectionaries Address:Iiyama City, Minamimachi 9-5
(Dec~Mar ~18:00)
Closed:New Year's (Jan 1st)
240yen Each cake is baked individually, using a traditional Castella batter, and is wrapped around an entire banana. Selected for their tenderness, each ripe banana is topped with a rich, thick cream, making this a Japanese confectionary-style Banana Boat. Lined with potted plants, the number 1 recommended Wagashi here is the "Kuri Chukaman"; chestnuts & red bean paste sandwiched between mini pancakes.
Baigetsu Confectionaries Address:Iiyama City, Minamimachi 21-13
250yen Topped with fresh cream and half of a sliced banana, the cake is baked on a papered plate, and boasts the secret ingredient - rice flour. The rice flour gives the cake a delicate moistness and supple texture, and the amounts of cream and banana are carefully balanced. Iiyama's favourite Mochi, or rice cake sweet shop, boasts two outlets within the city. Grab their famous "Mame Daifuku": red bean paste wrapped in mochi with black soybeans - in the morning before they sell out!

※Information as collected in November 2015.

I've tried out all the different versions of Banana Boat, but they're all full of cream, with fluffy cake and delightful sweetness! The sizes differ place to place, but they are all so satifying!
We urge all Banana boat fans to try tasting all of them! You may not be able to choose a favourite!

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