The Local Confectionary of Muroran, Hokkaido: What is a “Meika”?
The “Tetsu no Moto” (Base of Iron) Cookie, a new “Meika” born in Muroran city
Developing the second Muroran Meika, the “Genghis Khan Pot Cookie”
Where can Tetsu no Moto cookie and Genghis Khan Pot Cookie be purchased?
Conclusion

Muroran, Hokkaido’s Local Confectionary: What is a “Meika”?

In Japan, there are sweets referred to as “Meika” (local famous confectioneries). To be titled a Meika, the confectionery must live up to strict standards regarding the history and ingredients of the confection, as well as a strong local connection. How many Meika from various cities and prefectures are you familiar with?
In Muroran city, Hokkaido, known as the Town of Iron, there were no local Meika until a group of locals banded together and decided to make one themselves. Here, I will introduce Muroran city’s new Meikas, “Tetsu no Moto” (Base of Iron) cookie and “Genghis Khan Pot Cookie”, inspired by an idea from a professor at the Muroran Institute of Technology in collaboration with a local confectionery. I interviewed local people for their thoughts, and about the challenges of producing the new confectioneries.

The “Tetsu no Moto” (Base of Iron) Cookie, a new “Meika” born in Muroran city


Japan’s leading iron town Muroran, Hokkaido

Muroran city is in southwest Hokkaido. This area is blessed with rich natural sceneries and tourism resources such as Cape Chikyu, with a great view of the landscape, and Itanki Beach, famous for the squeaking sound that occurs when walking over its sands.

Muroran city’s main industry is iron making, steel making, and ship building. The city has developed over time, as a combination of Industry and beautiful nature.
However, the “Town of Iron” still has a ways to go in terms of nationwide name value, and few people outside of Hokkaido have heard of the city’s nickname. Neither did Muroran city have any local sweets suitable for souvenirs when people visited the area for sightseeing.


Muroran city industrial area

It was in this context that, one of the professors at the Muroran city National University Corporation, Muroran Industrial University (from hereon, MuIT) made a proposal. MuIT contributes to the development of Japanese industry, and was established in 1949 upon a foundation of scientific & industrial education, to pursue technological research.
Let’s discover the history of the new Meika, created in 2016 at Muroran city.

Local efforts to create a local Muroran confectionery

Many professors teach at MuIT and during domestic and overseas business trips take some sweets as gifts. But there were few sweets suitable for souvenirs that symbolized MuIT or the city. Dr. Kazumichi Shimizu, a professor at MuIT thought, “Are there any kinds of sweets that can promote Muroran?”


Naninani Confectionery opened a store on the Shanshan Republic Shopping Street

One day, when Dr. Shimizu talked to one of his friends about an idea to make local products for souvenirs, the friend introduced him to the newly opened Naninani Confectionery.


Inside Naninani Confectionery. Their goal is to make a “one-and-only” specialty sweet

The person who discussed with Dr. Shimizu about the cookie making was Mr. Takayuki Niwayama, the owner of Naninani Confectionery. He accepted Dr. Shimizu's passionate idea to make a one-and-only sweet in the world which can promote Muroran, the city of iron and manufacturing. They planned to make cookies that look just like real minerals like iron ore, limestone, and coal, which are the raw materials of iron.  


A row of Tetsu no Moto cookies. The high degree of perfection makes the cookies easy to mistake for real iron ore

They asked Ms. Mayumi Asaji, who is an illustrator living in Muroran, to draw a concept sketch, and. Dr. Shimizu greatly praised how interesting it was. Ms. Nao Niwayama, who was the main manufacturing staff member, began trial production.
 
At the Techno Café event held in Sapporo in 2015, when they announced 3 development ideas, the Tetsu no Moto (Base of Iron) cookie received overwhelming popularity. After the event, commercial production was kicked off using the idea they had developed as the product concept.

*Techno Café: An event about “making things” co-sponsored  by the Manufacturing and Engineering Design Center Cremo at MuIT and the Hokkaido Shimbun (Newspaper) Press Muroran branch

Difficulties of Commercialization & People’s Connections


MuIT is a rare institution selling official university cookies

The goal was to make sweets that looked like real iron ore, but at the same time are safe, delicious, and comfortable to eat. Since Naninani Confectionery strongly believed the value of using no artificial ingredients, the path to commercialization was not easy.  

There was a person who rushed to help, when he heard that the Tetsu no Moto cookie was repeating commercialization trials again and again. That person was Mr. Noboru Sugawara, who was working at Nippon Steel Corporation at that time. Mr. Sugawara helped them develop closer to real-life cookies by providing assistance such as a mill tour and giving them samples of iron ore.  


People are connected through cookies

Due to the cooperation and efforts of many people, finally the Tetsu no Moto cookie design was completed in March, 2016. Production started with 150 boxes on a trial basis at MuIT and they quickly sold out.


Naninani Confectionery’s mascot and a box of Tetsu no Moto cookie (980 yen/15 pieces)
 
However, the unexpected high demand brought a new problem. Production could not catch up with the quick rate at which the cookies were selling out, and many staff members were baking cookies until late at night. Dr. Shimizu, who could not bear to keep seeing such a situation, sent a machine that could automatically measure and divide the cookie dough into pieces.
Thanks to that machine, the manufacturing speed was 1.5 times faster than before. In the end, the cookie production involved many people including a sheltered workshop in the city entrusted with the packing.


Selling boxes of Tetsu no Moto cookies

At first the package only had a printed sticker attached to it, but after receiving a grant Ms. Mayumi Asahi was asked to draw an illustration symbolizing Muroran for the new package design.
After that, the, Tetsu no Moto cookies received increased visibility in the community when the Muroran Shinkin Banks distributed over 600 boxes for their customer appreciation day, and the Muroran Tourism Association started selling them at the roadside store “Mitara”.

The Meika shows Muroran citizen’s pride


Muroran’s history is written inside the box

In the beginning, Mr. Niwayama (Owner of Nani Nani Confectionery) doubted the value of this cookie. He was thinking that “No one would like to eat iron ore. Who would be glad to buy such sweets? “
However, he saw that at the supermarkets and department stores, he saw that people who had retired from the iron mill or affiliated companies seemed happy enjoying the cookies while they joked, “We can eat coal!”
After observing the cookie sales, he thought, “This cookie is for Muroran citizens.”


Iron ore mined in iron town Muroran

Mr. Niwayama said, “The steel industry contributed significantly to the modernization of Japan and the history of iron is the history of Muroran itself. It is with great pride for Muroran citizens to be involved in the history of modernization. I think the reason a lot of people supported us was because the confectionery in Muroran was working to respect and convey this history through the making of these cookies.“ 

Developing the second Muroran Meika, Genghis Khan Pot Cookie


Aluminum mold made by Dr. Shimizu

The Tetsu no Moto cookies produced in 2016 quickly became popular, and grew into a great Meika which received high acclaim, including the Japan Gift Award 2017 Grand Prize. 

Even though producing the Muroran Meika succeeded, they did not stop there. Dr. Shimizu suggested to produce a “Genghis Khan Pot Cookie” as the second step.

It may seem jarring for the Mongolian ruler’s name to show up in a local confectionery of Muroran, but “Genghis Khan” here does not refer to the historical figure. “Genghis Khan”, voiced in Japanese as “Jingisukan”, is a form of mutton barbecue widely associated to the entirety of Hokkaido.

Dr. Shimizu said, “ I am not sure if you can use it for making cookies, but please try” and handed to the manufacturing staff an original Genghis Khan Pot mold, designed by a member of MuIT. The idea of the Genghis Khan Pot Cookie was to use the same ingredients as the Tetsu no Moto cookie, in this mold resembling a Genghis Khan Pot.
If baked in the mold the finished product will look like the shape of a Genghis Khan pot, which is also a Hokkaido specialty item.


Original pot mold designed by MuIT

However, baking the cookies in this method proved quite difficult; conventionally, cookies are not meant to be baked in metal molds.
Although the staff started baking cookies with the mold, the Oshima Peninsula (Hokkaido’s western tail) part of the Hokkaido shape was quite thin, often causing it to break off. Until the staff became accustomed to using the mold, 1 in 3 baking attempts ended in failure.
At first they started making the cookies more for fun and mass production was not planned. However, repeated trial and error efforts such as softening the dough, led to successful commercialization by softening the dough.

To bring out the texture of iron, the cooks used edible bamboo charcoal powder and also included some mashed roasted black sesame for an iron-like look. “Since sesami contains a lot of iron, we can call this a real iron cookie,” they proudly told me. 


Various creators collaborated

Just as with the Tetsu no Moto cookie, Ms. Mayumi Asaji designed the package. Her theme used an Ainu (the native inhabitants of Hokkaido) costume to promote the cookies. She told me that she applied hidden tricks like using the same red base color as the Tetsu no Moto cookie, to give an impression of consistency between the two cookies.
In addition, there is a special version of the cookie topped with lamb and onion icing cookies, produced by Ms. Mika Kanaya at a popular café in the city, Sora Cafe.


Genghis Khan Pot Cookie special version

Where can Tetsu no Moto cookie and Genghis Khan Pot Cookie be purchased?

 
Roadside station “Mitara Muroran” sells Tetsu no Moto cookie and Genghis Khan Pot Cookie

The Tetsu no Moto cookie is manufactured according to the number of orders and is also sold by mail order. On the other hand, since there are only a few molds to make the Genghis Khan Pot Cookie and it takes time to bake, in one day the quantity that can be produced is only 36 small size and 15 medium size cookies.
Its complex shape makes the Genghis Khan Pot Cookie difficult to ship. Thus, they are only sold at the storefront of Nani Nani Confectionary, and the 3 nearby locations of: MuIT Co-op, the Hokkaido Shikisai-kan store at Higashi-Muroran Station, and the roadside station Mitara Muroran.


Muroran sightseeing location Cape Chikyu

With the spread of the internet, shopping can be done anywhere and anytime, and it is easy to order even from far away. In a kind of challenge to the internet’s modernity, the Genghis Khan Pot Cookie can only be bought in Muroran city, which could be seen as adding to the value of the cookie.

Mr. Niwayama said, “Muroran is a rare place where nature and industrial areas are united. Nowadays, the night view of the factories is becoming popular, as well as local specialty foods such as curry ramen or Muroran chicken skewers are common. I would be happy if the Tetsu no Moto cookie or Genghis Khan Pot Cookie inspires people to visit the ‘Town of Iron’ Muroran.”

Please visit Muroran and taste the Meikas that are produced from the people’s love for their hometown.

A new confectionery that conveys the history of Muroran to the present

Tetsu no Moto cookies were produced to be a local souvenir. Within the dough was included a great respect for Muroran’s connection with Iron, and the many people who had a hand in its long history.
The professor at the university and the confectionery shop, which seem to have no relationship at first glance, were connected by the opportunity to make a famous confectionery in Muroran. Then this relationship grew to include an illustrator in the city, the sheltered workshop facility, and others. If you eat the two kinds of cookies not just for the novelty of their shapes and flavors, but knowing the winding path by which “Iron Town” Muroran’s new Meikas were born, you will feel a much deeper flavor.

【MuIT-recognized Official Tetsu no Moto cookie dealers】
*Please ask each store about open hours and other details
*★ The mark indicates selling Genghis Khan Pot Cookie too.
MuIT Coop (★)  TEL: 0143-44-8755  
Hokkaido Kiosk (Hokkaido Shikisai Kan) Higashi Muroran store (★) TEL: 0143-83-7779
Roadside Station Mitara Muroran (★) TEL: 0143-26-2030
Bokoimeshi Honpo Muroran Station store (★) TEL: 0143-27-2777 *There are holidays. Please inquire.
Naninani Confectionery (★) TEL: 0143-83-6854

Other stores below are only selling during special event periods: Golden Week(*1), Obon holidays(*2), New Year holidays

*1 Golden Week is from April 29 to early May containing several Japanese holidays.
*2 Obon holiday is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It is celebrated around August 15.

Super Arcs Muroran Chuo store TEL: 0143-22-8880
Super Arcs Nakajima store TEL: 0143-41-5577
Homestore Shintakasago store TEL: 0143-55-8287
Homestore Kohoku store TEL: 0143-55-8287
Homestore Wanishi store TEL: 0143-44-4422
Homestore Horobetu store TEL: 0143-85-2448
Homestore Arnis store TEL: 0143-85-9750

*1 Golden Week is from April 29 to early May containing several Japanese holidays.
*2 Obon holiday is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It is celebrated around August 15.