There are still 20 factories in Yaotsu making senbei. Hinomaru Confectionary allows guided tours in its Minoya headquarters, which also provides direct sales, making it a fun place to visit.
Hinomaru Confectionary was founded in 1954 and is one of the older factories among the many in town.
The factory is enveloped in a subtle, sweet smell. The nostalgic smell will make you smile. The guide will give you an explanation of the senbei and then the factory tour begins. There are a number of machines in the factory and multiple types of senbei are being baked simultaneously. The machine does the baking, but there is always a staff member nearby, checking the progress. I tried a freshly baked Rakka (peanut) senbei. It was light and warm with a soft texture. I was about to ask for one more.
There are a number of types of Rakka Senbei in Japan, but if you ask President Inagaki, ‘Yaotsu Senbei is a perfect combination of ingredients such that the peanuts and senbei melt together in your mouth.’
At Hinomaru Confectionary, you can also find many other kinds of Yaotsu senbei, including hot spicy burdock senbei, cheese senbei and chocolate peanut senbei. There are also seasonal items like Sakura Senbei which includes salted petals of cherry flowers.
Ginger sugar (made of ginger) and Ougi Senbei (shaped like a fan) are exceptional treats that won an award at the National Confectionary Exposition in 1989. That was when the former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, was Minister of Health and Welfare and a commemorative certificate is placed at the entrance of the factory.
President Inagaki was kind enough to let us bake our own Senbei. We made Aojiso Senbei, made with an actual Japanese perilla leaf. The dough of this senbei is baked with the green perilla leaf on top and turns into a pretty snack.
However, when it touches ultraviolet light the color changes, so it has mostly been commercialized as a gift item.
Ginger sugar, Ougi Senbei and Aojiso Senbei are only available at Hinomaru Confectionary. Make sure to try it at least once.
Hinomaru continues to take on the challenge of making new Senbei products which has led to the creation of seasonal items, hot and spicy products and Senbei with buckwheat or black sesame in it. President Inagaki’s words show the spirit of his craftsmanship, “I would like to make new things while preserving tradition.”
Taking a bite of a Yaotsu Senbei while enjoying the calm landscape of Yaotsu is a great way to enjoy your trip. Test all the flavors at the direct sales depot and find your favorite one. I know what you’re thinking, you want to buy so many you won’t be able to eat it all. Hinomaru Confectionary also offers mail order/online service.