Your ultimate guide to different types of Japanese bread
Did you know that bread isn’t a staple food in Japan?
It’s not part of most breakfast tables; however, bread has been growing in popularity in recent years, especially among the younger generation, and is now one of the most popular konamono (or “flour things”) in Japan.
In response, many bakeries are making all kinds of tasty bread varieties to please everyone!
There isn’t just one type of Japanese bread. In fact, there are many different types, and they are all tasty, but some are so unique, you’ve surely never seen them in Western grocery shops!
You’re probably familiar with the deliciously soft and spongy Japanese milk bread, but in this post, I’ll take you through all types of Japanese bread. Think of it as your ultimate guide to different types of Japanese bread.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Japanese vs. Western bread
- 2 Types of Japanese bread
- 3 History of Japanese bread
- 4 FAQs
- 5 Takeaway
Japanese vs. Western bread
The most noticeable differences between Western and Japanese bread are the flavor, shape, and texture of loaves and buns.
You’re used to the regular white bread loaf, baguettes, and whole wheat bread. But, in Japan, you’ll find savory, sweet, fluffy, and even flavored bread.
One of the first things that come to mind is Japanese milk bread.
Japanese bread is softer than Western bread. Part of it has to do with the bread flour, and part of it has to do with the ingredients and the bread recipe.
Another difference is that different ingredients are used to make the bread.
For example, the dough has a different composition and chemistry in Japan. The Western-style bread is usually made of the following basic ingredients:
Therefore, it has zero fat content.
Asian bread, though, is sweeter and has a softer texture. It contains about 15% fat and 25% sugar, and that’s what gives it that milky texture and taste.
Most Japanese types of bread and rolls are made using special bread flour and not all-purpose flour like in America. This gives them that unique texture.
Finally, I want to talk about dough texture and dough-making methods. In Japan, they use a special technique called Yudane or Tangzhong.
This refers to a yeast-bread-making technique where a special pasty roux is made and then added to the bread dough to give it that soft, tender texture. It increases the bread’s moisture content and prevents it from getting dry and crumbly.
You can read more about yudane and tangzhong here.
So, the bottom line is that Japanese bread and buns are soft, springy (spongy), and sweeter, whereas Western bread has a harder, thicker crust and saltier flavor (i.e., sourdough loaf).
Types of Japanese bread
Japanese milk bread
You’ve likely heard about this amazing Japanese milk bread because it’s probably the most famous of them all. Hokkaido milk bread is the best one, and luckily the recipe for it is pretty easy.
It’s a light, fluffy, tender, and airy bread with a milky color and subtle sweetness. This is the bread that’s usually used for the best sandwiches and toast.
The milk bread is baked in a loaf form and sold whole or sliced, depending on the customer’s preferences.
You’ll find Japanese milk bread at all bakeries, grocery stores, and local convenience markets.
The milk bread is made with a yeast mixture and flour that’s combined with water. This is called a roux, and it gets folded into the dough.
You have to whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl according to the tangzhong method. This creates a super soft and fluffy bread.
The milk bread recipes are very popular, and Japanese people really adore this kind of bread.
Shokupan, also known as Shi pan, is an essential and popular type of bread that can be found in all bakeries and grocery stores.
This refers to white bread, which can be bought sliced or whole. It looks like French toast bread or pain de mie. When baked, it is box-shaped and can be sliced to make it more delicious.
In the 19th century, a new form of shokupan was brought to Japan from England. It was made for foreigners.
After World War II, shokupan was made for Japanese military personnel in Japan, and that’s when locals developed a taste for it.
Although white bread is widely available around the globe, Japanese shokupan is a slightly different product because of its unique texture.
Japanese prefer bread with a soft texture. This texture is often called “mochi mochi,” which roughly means soft and squishy. Don’t confuse this bread with mochi, which is a snack/dessert (recipe here).
Compared to Western bread, shokupan is lighter and sweeter. Some Japanese bakeries make their bread using rice flour or rice flour to appeal to local taste buds.
Popular shokupan varieties include cute cat-shaped bread.
Anpan (あんパン) is the original Japanese bread, filled with a delicious red bean (anko) paste.
The word comes from combining the word anko (red bean paste) and the word pan (bread). This bread is a bun, not a classic loaf.
The Anpan was invented in 1869 in a store called Kimuraya Main store (which is still around, by the way). The bread bun is made with natural yeast made from fermented rice and Koji rice to suit the Japanese palate.
It’s a combination between bread and a pastry product, and it’s mostly preferred by children.
Anpan has inspired a special anime superhero named Anpanman, who has an anpan bun on his head. He is the inspiration for many kids and a true hero in the bread world.
You can find this bread roll at most Japanese bakeries, and sometimes the anko filling is swapped with chocolate so that it’s more appealing to kids.
Anko is also a popular filling in the delicious Japanese Imagawayaki (or Obanyaki) dessert
Also known as melon bread, this is a unique bread that looks like a melon.
Melon pan (メロンパン) is a sweet and fluffy bread that resembles a sweet bun more than classic white bread.
It’s not the kind of sandwich bread that goes well with salty and savory ingredients. But rather, it’s a sweet snack, perfect for breakfast or a mid-day snack.
The bread is soft and fluffy, with a layer of sweet cookie-like dough on the bottom. It is not always melon-flavored, even though it is called “melon pan.” Some shops use melon cream or green-colored dough to give it a melon flavor or appearance.
Combining a soft bun with a sweet cookie crust creates a unique texture that is both soft and crispy.
Melon bread is sold in bakeries as well as convenience stores and supermarkets.
Different melon pans are made by different bread makers and convenience stores. Some have whipped cream and melon cream, while others are more focused on the crispy texture of cookie dough.
The cream pan is called cream bread in English. It’s mostly marketed towards children, especially as snacks and lunches.
It is a bread toll with a custard cream filling. Aizo Soma invented it in 1904, and it’s based on the popular treats known as cream puffs.
Compared to other sweetbreads, the cream pan has a higher nutritional value, so it’s a very popular bread.
You can buy it at all kinds of local convenience shops, bakeries, supermarkets, and specialty shops like Hattendo. These specialty shops make all types of cream bread with sophisticated fillings, toppings, and modified recipes.
The chocopan (チョコパン) is a delicious sweet dessert bread, similar to pain au chocolate but it has a different shape.
Basically, it is a sweet bun filled with chocolate cream paste. In some areas, the chocopan is white marbled bread, and its dough has a chocolate flavor.
This type of bread is also marketed for kids, and you’ll find it made into cute shapes and characters.
The choco korone is a European-inspired chocopan and probably the most famous variety. It resembles a cornet (cone-shape), and it is filled with tasty chocolate cream or pudding.
Now back to a classic savory bread type, the curry bread is a deep-fried bread bun filled with curry.
The most basic curry pan shape is a rugby ball. First, it’s filled with thick Japanese curry. Then it’s deep-fried with panko (breadcrumbs).
There are many variations of this item, and there are many bread-maker companies and bakeries that make it.
Some are baked rather than deep-fried; others have cheese mixed with curry. Luckily breadmakers create endless possibilities, and you can find the perfect curry pan for your tastes.
Depending on where you shop, curry tastes and ingredients can vary.
Feel like just the curry? Try this ideal easy & family-friendly Japanese curry Doria
Coppe pan, a Japanese bread similar to hot dog buns or coupe, is very popular, but it’s usually sold with the filling inside, like a sandwich.
It is soft in texture and mildly sweet, but the fillings vary between sweet and savory.
Common fillings include peanut butter, jam, butter, red bean paste, or tonkatsu. Coppe pan can be eaten as both a meal or snack, depending on what filling is used.
Coppe pan has a long history. It was invented in 1919 and has been used for school lunches since the 1980s. It’s usually considered an alternative to Japanese milky bread and shokupan.
History of Japanese bread
Bread is not a traditional Japanese food, and Europeans introduced it in the mid-sixteenth century.
It was the Portuguese traders who first brought bread to Japan. The Portuguese word for bread is “pão.” Now, if you compare the Japanese word for bread, “pan,” you’ll see that it originates from the Portuguese term.
In the 17th century, bread fell out of favor because Christianity and everything that came with it was banned.
In fact, not many people made bread up until the 19th century, and there was no real evidence of bread-making practices by locals up until that period.
Egawa Hidetatsu prepared the first Japanese bread made for Japanese people in 1842.
He was in charge of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s coast defenses around Tokyo Bay.
Due to some food shortages, he baked hard bread for soldiers and also built an early reverberatory furnace at Izunokuni (Shizuoka Prefecture). This furnace is now a World Heritage Site.
While bread became more popular with Japan’s rapid industrialization during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), it didn’t gain popularity among the locals because rice was still the main food staple.
In 1874, Yasubei Kimura created anpan, which were buns filled with red bean paste, called anko. Anpan was so popular that it was presented to Emperor Meiji. This led to a boom in bread confections.
The army popularized bread
Bread was first introduced to the Japanese Navy in 1890 as a food staple to combat vitamin B1 deficiency.
It was only used as a snack by the general population until after World War II. The U.S army occupied Japan during that time, and they really pushed for bread to be a part of lunches.
The school lunch system, called kyushoku, was created to combat post-war food shortages by making use of wheat and powdered dairy milk provided by the U.S. occupier authority. Therefore they included bread as a regular component.
Bread was also made for sandwiches that were popular among U.S. troops.
It was slowly modified to meet Japanese tastes and became the square Shokupan (Shi Pan, literally “eating bread”), which can still be found at every grocery store and convenience store.
Nowadays, bread is a mainstream food and an important part of the Japanese diet, although rice still reigns supreme.
Here’s another Western-inspired Japanese dish: the Onigirazu sushi sandwich (recipe & more here)
What is the most popular bread in Japan?
The most common type of bread in Japan is the shokupan because it’s versatile and perfect for sandwiches and toast.
It is a white, pillowy, square-shaped bread, and it’s made of white flour, yeast, and dry milk powder. The dough is baked to a beautiful golden brown color, and it has an airy, light texture.
There’s a bit of confusion because Japanese milky bread is actually a type of shokupan, so both are in the most popular category.
What kind of bread does Japan have?
As you’ve read so far, Japan has many types of bread.
But, the one signature Japanese bread is the Anpan because it’s filled with the world-famous sweet red bean filling.
What is Japanese sweet bread called?
Although there are several kinds of sweet bread, the term “Japanese sweet bread” refers to melon pan.
This is one of the country’s favorite sweet buns, and it’s trendy. The tasty dough covered with a thin layer of cookie dough makes it crispy.
How much is bread in Japan?
Prices vary, but a basic loaf of bread costs between $2-4 USD.
Why is it called milk bread?
When making milk bread, the roux (tangzhong) is made with milk.
The dough still retains the moisture, but the milk makes the bread springy and air as the milk and yeast combo creates lots of air bubbles.
Now that you’ve decided to delve into the world of Japanese bread, surely you’ll want to try them all.
There’s really nothing as comforting as a warm loaf of shokupan or a sweet treat like the chocopan and other sweet bread to satisfy your hunger.
The good news is that you can likely make most of the Japanese bread varieties at home with a bread machine.
But, if you want to avoid baking, I recommend visiting the nearest Asian bakery or grocery shop and trying Japanese bread and pastries!
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.