Chocolate’s Journey to Japan

“What is your comfort food?” Many would answer chocolate. Chocolate is loved by everyone, regardless of age, sex or nationality. How is it then that chocolate has become so familiar to us?


Chocolate’s history starts in Central America where cacao trees grow wild. By 600 AD chocolate trees were worshiped and their beans were called God Food by the Mayans who inhabited the area. They brewed the spicy, bittersweet chocolate drink by roasting and pounding the cacao beans. They also used them as currency and in religious rituals.

In 1528 the Spanish explorer Cortez brought the cacao beans to his home country. For a long time the Spaniards kept the chocolate and its trading secrets to themselves. When the secret finally leaked out, its knowledge spread throughout Europe and cocoa gained popularity as a medicine, although it was only for the noble and the rich. Mexico became the hot trading spot.

                                                                                                         Hasekura Tsunenaga,                              The first Japanese who had chocolate is said to be                                                                       Hasekura Tsunenaga (支倉常長) and his delegation. He was a retainer of the feudal lord of Sendai, Date Masamune (伊達政宗), and was sent to Spain in 1617 to request the king’s permission to trade with Mexico. His delegation headed to Europe by way of Mexico. He probably had his chance to try chocolate in Mexico, where cacao beans were grown, or he was possibly entertained with chocolate, the trend among the courtiers, when he had an audience with the Spanish King and the Pope in Rome.


However it was not until 1797 that chocolate was actually introduced to Japan. The name chocolate was included on a gift list from a Dutch merchant to a prostitute in Nagasaki, a 

town which flourished with trading during the Edo period (17th – mid 19th century). There are also records telling how to make chocolate by flakeing cacao beans in hot water, adding egg and sugar and whisking it. As in Europe, the Japanese also used

chocolate as medicine. It was an expensive beverage.


Edible chocolate was developed by Fry & Sons, a chocolate company in England, in the 1850s. Soon after, this solid form was introduced to Japan. In 1878 the first              Cacao beans                              chocolate was processed, manufactured and sold by a Japanese sweet shop in Tokyo. Their chocolate was advertised in a newspaper. Chocolate, which had not been appealing to Japanese because of its brown color and flavor, now began its journey into the lives of Japanese people. 


#136 Parkway Vol.26. No.2 April-June 2011 






1528年 スペインの冒険家コルテスが母国にカカオ豆を持ち込んだ。長い間スペイン人は、チョコレートとその取引を秘密にしていた。ついにその秘密が漏れると、ヨーロッパ全土に広まり、高貴で金持ちの人々に限られたものの、カカオは薬として人気を博した。メキシコは取引場所として賑わった。