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An anpan is a type of Japanese sweet bun or roll. Bread is not a traditional part of Japanese cuisine, and anpan is one of the few breads to have originated in that country; the word "anpan" refers both to the type of bread and to an individual bun. The rolls are soft and somewhat sweet, and filled with any one of a variety of sweet pastes or jams. Anpan is made with a kind of rice yeast called sakedane, which is also used to make sake, a mildly alcoholic beverage popular in Japan. Bread was virtually unknown in Japan until the introduction of anpan in the 1870s.
During the late 1800s the Japanese people were very interested in learning about, and adopting, goods and foods from other countries. Around 1870, Kimura Yasubei and his son, residents of Tokyo, opened a bakery to offer the Japanese a novel food item: bread. Their first product was a dense loaf like those eaten in much of Europe at the time, but, when this proved unpopular, they developed a new offering much more like a snack or dessert item than a traditional European bread. Making the buns with sakedane rice yeast gave them a unique flavor and aroma, subtly but noticeably different from that of bread made with ordinary baking yeast.
The buns were filled with an, a red paste made from adzuki beans that is widely used in Japanese sweet dishes, and had poppy seeds or white sesame seeds sprinkled on top. When the bakery owners were asked to make their rolls for the Emperor they garnished them with sakura, salted cherry blossoms, and this became another flavor option. For much of the late 1800s, anpan was extremely popular.
Though interest in anpan declined somewhat in the 1900s, they continued to be offered by the original bakery, Kimuraya. In the mid-1970s a series of books for children was launched with "An Pan Man" as the hero, and the popular books sparked a revival of interest in anpan. Other bakeries and businesses started to make them, and new varieties of fillings became available. Popular fillings now include the original red bean paste, red bean paste with sakura on the top, sweet chestnut paste, green pea paste, white kidney bean paste and a filling flavored with green tea. Other options include fruit jams, especially strawberry, cream cheese, custard, apple, and pumpkin.
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