- Castella is actually a Japanese sweet! Why was it born in Nagasaki?
- Don’t miss these 3 major Nagasaki Castellas! Three classic castella shops
- 1. Fukusaya
- 2. Bunmeido main store
- 3. Sho-oken
- Nagasaki-exclusive Castella: only for those who know
- 1. Iwanaga Baijuken: “The Elusive Castella”
- 2. The “Castella of Miracles”（O-ura Catholic Cathedral & Christian Museum）
- 【Bonus】Only in Nagasaki! Peach Castella
In Nagasaki, a prefecture whose scenery retains many overseas influences, there are many unique specialty foods and products. Among them, Nagasaki Castella is likely the most well-known and the most popular souvenir. The fluffy texture, sugary scent, and beautiful packaging brings happiness to anybody receiving them as a gift. What people may not know, is how the birth of Nagasaki Castella is deeply related to Japanese history and culture.
This time, I will introduce not only the history of castella, but also various castella specialty shops based on local recommendations, ranging from long established stores to Nagasaki only castella shops.
*Business hours, prices, and shipping cost may temporarily change. Please check beforehand.
Castella is actually a Japanese sweet! Why was it born in Nagasaki?
Nagasaki-born Japanese sweet castella
Castella, which originated in Nagasaki, is a popular confection for all Japanese from young to old.
Since this sweet is written in Katakana (a Japanese writing system used for foreign words) and also from the type of ingredients it uses, many people think it is a type of western cake. Did you know that the castella was actually invented in Japan?
In the 16th century, a port was established in Nagasaki and trading started with Portugal. It is said that a sweet from the Kingdom of Castile (a kingdom located in modern Spain) was imported via Portugal and is the origin of castella. It is thought that the etymology of castella also traces back to the name of the kingdom.
There are some theories saying that castella’s origins are possibly from the baked confections, Spanish Biscocho or Portuguese Pan De Lo.
Portuguese baked confection Pan De Lo
The Nagasaki Castella was born when a Japanese confectioner in Nagasaki came across these Portuguese sweets, and sought to adapt its style to Japanese tastes. Nagasaki Castella is a very unique confection, since it is a Japanese-born sweet that simultaneously has roots in Europe.
Sugar imports gave birth to castella
Nagasaki continued trading with Holland and China even during the isolation period (“sakoku”) which lasted more than 200 years. Nagasaki was the only place in Japan open to the world at that time.
With the combination of Japanese, European, and Chinese cultures, there is an unusual term “wa ka ran” (wa=Japanese/ ka=Chinese/ ran=Europe) heard only in Nagasaki. Even now, Nagasaki has unique and exotic townscapes unseen elsewhere in Japan.
Castella’s main ingredients are flour, eggs, and sugar. Among these three, the sugar imported during the trading with Holland and China played a very important role in castella’s development.
Although imported sugar made its way throughout Japan from Nagasaki to Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (current Tokyo), its lack of supply made it a highly valuable commodity. However, in Nagasaki it is said that sweet castella was able to be created due to the abundant supply of sugar.
Compared to other areas of Japan, foods in Nagasaki and other Kyushu areas tend to be sweeter than those of other regions, which is also likely related to the sugar imports.
For further reading on Dejima↓↓
Dejima: Japan’s Former Window to the World
Don’t miss these 3 major Nagasaki Castellas! Three classic castella shops
Exquisite castella for a souvenir
In Nagasaki there are many castella makers and brands. For those who can not decide between the many selections, I will introduce the castellas that locals recommended.
First, I will introduce three classic castella shops, Fukusaya, Bunmeido, and Sho-oken, which are called “Nagasaki’s 3 Major Castellas”, or “3 Classic Castella Stores”. All 3 shops have a long castella-making history and bake using traditional manufacturing techniques.
Founded in 1624 (early Edo period), Fukusaya is a long-established store with a history of 400 years. It has the longest history and is registered with the trademark “Castella Honke (originator)”.
Fukusaya main store (photo: ©︎Fukusaya)
Fukusaya has many stores nationwide. Among them, the main store is a fine building of traditional Japanese- style architecture constructed in the early Meiji era, that embodies the store’s tradition and history. The main branch is in Funadaiku-machi, Nagasaki Prefecture, close to the downtown Shian Bridge and Maruyama area, which flourished as a “yukaku” (red-light district) in the Edo period.
The trademark Fukusaya adopted since the Meiji era is the animal “bat” (the animal). In China, bats are a sign of celebration and good luck just like peaches. Fukusaya is said to have been granted the right to trademark the bat by Sofukuji Temple, one of the Chinese temples in Nagasaki..
Fukusaya castella is made by a traditional manufacturing method called “one person, one bar”, meaning that one craftsman hand-crafts one castella from beginning to end. This method is said to have been directly handed down from the Portuguese and has been preserved for 400 years to this day.
In addition to traditional castella, Fukusaya products include the Special Gosanyaki, said to have been created by Fukusaya, which contains much more sugar and eggs compared to usual castella. There is also the “Oranda” (Dutch) Cake containing cocoa, walnuts, and raisins, as well as a cute and stylish Fukusaya Cube containing two pieces of castella, and others.
【Fukusaya Nagasaki main store information】
Address: 3-1 Funadaiku-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Business hours: 9:00〜18:00
Product List URL of Fukusaya here
2. Bunmeido main store
The Bunmeido main store was founded in 1900 (Meiji era year 33). This is the newest of Nagasaki’s 3 main castella stores, even with its history of more than 100 years.
Bunmeido main store from outside
Bunmeido has franchises nationwide and is boasts high popularity along with Fukusaya. Although there are stores all over the country, the original and main store is in Nagasaki.
The main store is located near the Ohato stop of the Nagasaki Tram. With an old and long traditional Japanese building, the store has a historic feel. Besides the castella, Bunmeido offers the Castella Maki (roll), the inside of which is castella wrapped with patties of Mikasayama (a pancake-like Bunmeido product with a bean paste filling), and there is also a Special Castella packed in a special wooden container.
【Bumeido main store information】
Address:1-1 Edo-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Business hours: 8:30〜19:30
Product list URL for Bunmeido here
At Sho-oken, founded in 1681, professional craftspeople bake each castella one by one.
Sho-oken has only 2 shops, in Nagasaki and Fukuoka, and has the highest rarity value of the 3 main castella stores. The main store is along the tram line next to the Civic Hall tram stop, and close to Meganebashi Bridge. The first floor is for selling products but on the second floor is a café where it is possible to eat-in.
The castella named Chocolate (pronounced Choco-lah-teh) originates from the chocolate flavored castella made by Sho-oken. In addition, there are Matcha Castella and other varieties. Sho-oken also hosted some interesting events in the 90s, such as one where a Portuguese confectioner was invited to learn the Japanese methods of Castella.
【Sho-oken main store information】
Address:3-19 Uonomachi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Product list URL for Sho-oken here
Nagasaki-exclusive Castella: only for those who know
Castella is sold all over Japan, but if you come to Nagasaki, I recommend trying rare castella that you can buy only in Nagasaki. I will introduce three castella stores that are loved by local people, and some castella that only can be purchased in Nagasaki.
1. Iwanaga Baijuken: “The Elusive Castella”
Iwanaga Baijuken, founded in 1830, is located on the Naka Dori shopping street. The traditional appearance of the store is so impressive and elegant that it received the “Cityscape Award”.
Iwanaga Baijuken outside
The castella produced here is usually made-to-order and is very popular with a waiting list that can be as long as 6 months. Over-the-counter sales are limited, and sell out extremely quickly, making the castella known as the “The Elusive Castella”.
【Iwanaga Baijuken information】
Address: 7-1 Suwa-cho, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Product List URL of Iwanaga Baijuken here
2. The “Castella of Miracles”（O-ura Catholic Cathedral & Christian Museum）
Next to Oura Catholic Cathedral, which is registered as a World Cultural Heritage site in 2018, is the Christian Museum whose museum shop sells the “Castella of Miracles.”
Oura Catholic Cathedral from outside
The package with Raphael’s painting of “The Virgin of Belvedere” is beautiful, and makes for a perfect souvenir.
Miracle Castella’s beautiful package
The castella has a vivid, beautiful yellow color. The taste is also popular since the castella is made with particular attention to the ingredients and baking method.
【Christian Museum basic information】
Address: 5-3 Minamiyamate-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture
Business hours: 8:00〜18:00
【Bonus】Only in Nagasaki! Peach Castella
If you visit Nagasaki, you can not miss the Peach Castella
In Nagasaki there is a unique local sweet: peach castella! Peaches have been a lucky charm and representation of long life in China since ancient times. The peach castella is an adaptation of the castella dough, as it was inherited from the Portuguese, that resembles a peach with its sugar coating.
It is a special sweet in Nagasaki, deeply rooted in the region’s culture as a lucky food for eating during the Hinamatsuri (The Girl’s Festival, held on March 3 every year). The peach castella is a unique sweet combining the cultures of Portugal, China, and Japan.
In Nagasaki, usually it is usually sold at stores around spring time, but it is sold all year round depending on the location. If visiting during the Hinamatsuri season, you can buy it at various places in Nagasaki. It is definitely worth a try.
Try a variety of castella when visiting Nagasaki!
Nagasaki Castella, Nagasaki's famous confection, uniquely evolved through the encounter of Eastern and Western cultures. The expiration date varies for each item, but usually it is about 10 days. In addition, castella can also be enjoyed at coffee shops so how about trying castella as a snack during your trip to Nagasaki?
Nagasaki Prefecture has a unique history and culture born from a deep connection with foreign countries. While you are visiting, please try eating a variety of castella while feeling the history!