The next time someone asks, “What’s your favourite thing about Japan?”, I know what I’m going to say.

When I was growing up in England, the only thing you could buy from a cute little musical van that drove around the neighbourhood was ice cream, and for the approximately eleven-and-a-half months of the year when it was too cold to eat an ice cream, you had to make do with a “mix-up bag” (like pick ‘n’ mix, but without the “pick” part – that is to say, without the element of choice) which consisted of ten gummy sweets no one ever liked anyway.

Sure, in city centres and at events in England we have vendors selling fast food. But our burger and falafel trucks don’t drive door-to-door playing old-fashioned jingles like an ice cream van does. In Japan, however, there are a bunch of tiny vans, privately owned, that each specialise in one product and each have their own song. And it’s not just food, either. The things you can buy off the back of those little musical trucks are amazing.

Let’s take a look at five of the best!

1) Warabi-mochi

Warabi-mochi is a squishy Japanese sweet that’s coated in soybean flour. Despite the name, it’s not actually mochi, being made from bracken starch rather than glutinous rice.


oyaji no tameiki

It’s often eaten in summer, and is sold from miniature trucks like this:

▼ The gentleman on the left is pulling his best “the warabi-mochi truck is here!” face.



When a tiny warabi-mochi truck rolls around the neighbourhood, its speakers project the crackly voice of an old man singing about how delicious and cooling the snack is. I used to think that I just happened to live in an area served by a warabi-mochi guy who liked singing, until at the beach one day I heard the same voice singing the song – from a completely different truck. That’s when I realised it’s just a cool old recording. Here’s a particularly crackly version of that song:

2) Baked sweet potato

When autumn rolls in, though, the warabi-mochi song is replaced by one that advertises a piping hot treat: baked sweet potato. “Ishi yaki-mo, yaki-imo, yaki-imoooooooooo” [stone-baked potato] goes the song, which is also sung by a groovy old guy (the same man, perhaps?!)  When baked, the red skin of Japanese sweet potato turns a darker purple, and the white flesh goes golden.

▼ That’s right. Japanese potatoes are made of gold.



▼ Question is, how do you fill it up with fuel? Bet they don’t let you in the gas station when your truck has a fired oven on the back.



Writer and all-round Japan buff Gakuranman has this lovely video on his YouTube channel of his interaction with a sweet-potato seller. You can hear the yaki-imo song in his video, too!

3) Tofu

The tofu truck (or bicycle trailer!) is recognisable by its distinctive trumpet tune. That, and the fact it’s a truck that only sells tofu.


karen no hitorigoto

Well, ok. It actually sells other products made from soy beans, too. But that’s still pretty specialised!


Saitama B-kyuu gurume

Listen to that trumpet jingle here:

BONUS: In times of financial difficulty, what do you do when your family business’s premises look to become untenable? Get rid of the ramen shop and open up a ramen truck instead! Sadly, there’s no “ramen song” yet, but there probably should be.

▼ Ramen: tastes way better eaten outside anyway.


yatai no rāmen-ya san

4) Laundry poles

Delicious sweets and fresh tofu brought to your door are one thing, but what about household items? A pole to hang your laundry outside is a household essential, but if you go to a shop to buy it, getting it home could be tricky. It won’t fit in the car, and you can’t walk it home, unless you want to carry it with a friend like some kind of terrible comedy act.

Fear not, dear reader! In Japan, there’s a specialised door-to-door truck for that!


sonna banana

These ones are called saodake-ya, meaning “bamboo pole shop”, because (you guessed it) back in the day, the poles all used to be bamboo. And these trucks also have their own song, this one by a lovely lady singing “Take-yaaaaaaa, saodakeeeeeee!”, which meansbamboo seller, bamboo poles”.

▼ Here’s a video of a dog singing along with her.

5) Kerosene

Central heating not being the norm in Japanese homes, kerosene space heaters are a popular option. Accordingly, these trucks go door-to-door selling kerosene!



This not only saves Japan’s ageing population from having to work out how to get a heavy bottle of kerosene home, but also provides us with another jingle, this time a children’s song.

▼ If you like your nostalgic kids’ songs set to a backing video of someone tailing a truck, this is the vid for you.

See? When the shops come to you, you never have to go to the shops again! So long as you don’t mind only eating tofu, sweet potatoes and mochi, that is.

Top image: karen no hitorigoto