Just South of Central Tokyo, in the district of Shinbashi, is a 104-year old wagashi shop that’s been family-run for 3 generations. There, you’ll find a peculiar Japanese sweet called Seppuku Monaka. Indeed, it’s a suicide-themed desert that borrows its name the Japanese ritual suicide of stomach-cutting (also known as harakiri) that dates back over 800 years.
But for Yoshihisa Watanabe, the 3rd generation proprietor of Shinshodo who came up with the idea, the ominous dessert was more about remembering history than creating sensational sweets.
Monaka are traditional Japanese sweets made from sweet azuki bean sandwiched between 2 wafers. Today it comes in many shapes, sizes and fillings. In an interview with Hangame, Mr. Watanabe explains how he came up with his Seppuku Monaka, whose shape resembles an abdomen being sliced open.
The original idea came to him 20 years ago when he suddenly recalled an interesting fact about the location of his historic shop. It had been built on the same ground where, in 1701, Asano Naganori was ordered by the shogunate to commit seppuku. This triggered a series of events known today as Chushingura, and is one of Japan’s most well-known, retold stories. Watanabe instinctively knew that he needed to create a Seppuku-themed desert.
However, he was met with staunch opposition from his wife, his mother and even his customers. In a survey he conducted amongst people in his neighborhood, 118 out of 119 people thought it was a bad idea. Unrelenting, Watanabe pushed on. But he was careful not to invest too much in his idea.
And at first they didn’t sell at all. But one day the branch manager from a stock brokerage came into his shop. A stock he had recommended to one of his clients had blown up and he was looking for something to express his apologies. Jokingly, Watanabe told him about the Seppuku Monaka. The manager bought the deserts and returned 1 week later saying his client got a big kick out of it and accepted his apology. The story travelled by word-of-mouth until one day the Nikkei newspaper visited Shinshodo to interview Watanabe about his creation. The story ran with no mention of the historic events behind the dessert, only that it had been used to express apologies.
Suddenly, the Seppuku Monaka took off. The nation now had the most appropriate gift to go along with their deep bows of apology. Watanabe sells, on average, 2000 Seppuku Monaka per day. On good days he sells 6000 – 7000. Now that’s a lot of apologies.