A must-have snack for anyone who likes cars, traditional Japanese confectionary… or both!

Our Japanese-language reporter Takamichi Furusawa was on a pilgrimage. Not for anything spiritual or religious, but for something else entirely. You see, Takamichi is a native of Gunma Prefecture, which is famous for a variety of things including World Heritage Sites and delicious food. But Gunma is also home to something else, something that’s appreciated by people all over the world. Gunma is home to the manufacturing plants of car giant Subaru. 

If you’re driving a Subaru, chances are it was made in one of the four factories found in Gunma. As such, Subarists — the term given to Subaru enthusiasts — often make a trip to Gunma’s Ota City to visit one of the factories.

But while Subarists are in the area, there’s another sacred spot they visit without fail — Iseya, a store selling traditional Japanese confectionary that’s located across the street from Subaru’s main factory, about five minutes from Ota Station.

The store has a long history, having first opened its doors back in 1934, and there’s a reason why it attracts Subarists from near and wide. While Iseya sells all kinds of confectionary, there is one product in particular that’s a big hit with car enthusiasts, and that’s the Subaru Monaka.

▼ Subaru Monaka — 130 yen (US$0.96)

Monaka are traditional Japanese sweets made by sandwiching adzuki red bean paste between layers of mochi rice wafers. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the ones on sale here at Iseya were in the shape of Subaru cars. 

As he made his way inside the shop, Takamichi was immediately met with a wave of Subaru-related memorabilia and merchandise. Clearly the people of Ota City, where the Subaru factories are located, are very proud of their town’s contribution to the world at large and Takamichi felt it in this small corner of the confectionary shop.

After a while browsing the shelves, Takamichi found some Subaru Monaka and was impressed with the detail of the wafer layer. “No wonder Subarists go out of their way to come here,” he thought.

But Takamichi was curious to know how such a unique product came into being, so he decided to talk to Iseya’s owner, Mr. Okada.

According to Mr. Okada, the Subaru Monaka has been around for 63 years, and since its debut has gone through two model changes. The first Subaru Monaka’s looks were based on the Subaru 360 — Subaru’s first mass-produced car that was manufactured from 1958 to 1971.

▼ The Subaru 360 mold

The second generation of Subaru Monaka featured the Subaru Leone, manufactured from 1971 to 1994.

▼ The Subaru Leone mold

The current mold model being used to make Subaru Monaka is based off the Subaru Legacy B4, which was first manufactured back in 2004. The molds for the previous generations of Subaru Monaka are on display in the store though, so for Subarists it’s a great chance to experience the history of Subaru cars up close, albeit in a unique way.

But while there’s clearly a great deal of love and attention to detail being put into these sweet treats, it would mean very little if the sweets themselves didn’t taste good, and the more Takamichi listened to Mr. Okada talking about the history of the monaka, the more he wanted to taste them for himself! So Takamichi bought the ‘Subaru A La Carte‘ (1100 yen [US$8.11]), a set that included Subaru Monaka, mixed in with a few other treats sold at the store.

The first thing Takamichi noticed about the Subaru A La Carte when he got it home was just how stylish the packaging was. The colours and typography gave it a retro feel.

Included in the set were some Subaru Monaka, as well as some Subaru senbei and Subaru sable cookies. It all looked good, but seeing as the monaka seemed to be the shop’s speciality, Takamichi decided to try it first.

Even without tasting it, Takamichi was already really impressed. There were so many small details that seemed to be faithfully reproduced from the Subaru Legacy B4 model, like the wheels, lights — even the side mirrors were an accurate representation.

The monaka passed the visual check, but what about the taste test? It almost seemed a shame to eat something so beautifully crafted, so Takamichi decided to carefully take it apart to inspect it closer.

As he lifted the top wafer layer off, he was met with…

▼ An overwhelming amount of adzuki red bean paste!!

The Subaru Monaka was jam-packed with delicious-looking red bean paste, with the paste being so tightly crammed into the monaka that it looked to be in danger of bursting out from the sides. And as Takamichi took a bite, he was met with the familiar crunchy-yet-soft texture that monaka is famous for. With each bite, a smooth, sweet sensation spread over his tongue and before he could apply the handbrakes, he’d eaten the entire thing.

Luckily for Takamichi, his sweet set contained three Subaru Monaka, so he shifted gears and quickly ate the next two in succession.

The monaka were really delicious, so much so that they made Takamichi forget what they’d even looked like in the first place. There’s a reason they’ve been sold for over 60 years, and Takamichi understood it more and more with each bite.

If you’re looking for a unique souvenir, the Subaru Monaka are beautifully made in-store, and they’re super delicious. You can taste the pride the people of Ota have for their beloved Subaru factory with every bite — definitely check them out if you’re in the area! And while you’re in Gunma, take your taste buds on a trip to Taiwan with this temple that touts tapioca!

Shop Information
Iseya / 伊勢屋
Address: Gunma-ken, Ota-shi, Higashi Honmachi 24-23
Open: 9:00a.m – 6:30p.m
Closed on Wednesdays

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