We find out if a cake that looks like an omusubi rice ball is worth your yen.

Our reporter Seiji Nakazawa is always on the lookout for products and places that appeal to foreign tourists, so when a friend tipped him off about a cake that had been mentioned on Korean message board “MLBPARK”, he went to the site to check it out.

Sure enough, the thread described this cake as being not only popular with foreign tourists, but popular in Japan, which seemed odd to Seiji as he hadn’t really seen locals in Japan raving about it. It wasn’t like it was Rome’s Maritozzo, a sweet cream-filled bun that took the country by storm a few years ago. Now that was a cake that was undoubtedly popular, but this…well, this seemed far less ubiquitous by comparison.

Either way, he wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to eat cake, so he bought half a dozen of them online and got them delivered to the office for a taste test.

Opening the box, Seiji laid out the cakes, which were triangular in shape, as they were designed to represent…

▼ …omusubi!

Omusubi is another word for onigiri, or rice ball, and that’s what these Omusubi cakes represent. Not only do they have the same shape but they also use the same packaging, with the tag to open them tearing the plastic down the middle, just as it does when you buy a rice ball.

Once the package has been peeled off the cake, it stands proud like a rice ball, with an outer layer that resembles seaweed.

The seaweed is actually a thin layer of crepe, and hiding inside is a triangular cake with cream sandwiched between two sponge slices.

The flavours in the range are mainly ones that pair well with cream, like white peach, chocolate banana, and adzuki red bean butter. Interestingly, the Choco Banana variety doesn’t contain actual banana, but it still has an intense banana taste, and every mouthful was like eating a chocolate-covered banana.

▼ Or a banana chocolate rice ball without the rice.

Similarly, the adzuki bean butter had a strong buttery flavour, and the red bean paste had a real presence. If it were too sweet, a combination like this could be unpleasant, but the cream had a modest sweetness that gave it a light aftertaste.

Seiji was curious to get a second opinion from another local about the cakes, so he enlisted colleague Ikuna Kamezawa to taste one of them and share her thoughts about it. After trying the chestnut variety, she said, “I don’t like cream that’s too sweet, but this is just right.”

She also praised it for its ease of eating, as it’s not everyday you can eat cake with your hands and not have them become a sticky mess.

▼ The crepe on the outside stops the filling from spilling out while keeping your hands nice and clean.

Although Ikuna didn’t think these cakes were particularly popular in Japan, she does know a few foreign friends who’ve mentioned them, and the Japanese flair and English writing on the packaging does suggest that inbound tourists are the target market.

▼ The Omusubi Cake was born in Osaka in 2019.

Whomever the target market is, Seiji reckons these are great cakes that deserve more recognition. They can be purchased online, priced from 1,410 yen (US$9.38) for sets of three, with gift boxes also available.

▼ Seiji paid 2,920 yen for his set of six with a gift box, and with the 1,100 yen postage cost, his total came to 4,020 yen.

Having tried eight of the cakes when they were first released in 2019, we can attest to their deliciousness, and with a vending machine now selling them at Haneda Airport, these cakes look to be on an upward trajectory to superstardom.

Seiji reckons they’re well poised to fill the maritozzo-shaped hole in our hearts and become the next big thing in the cake world, along with these elegant sushi cakes, so be sure to try them if you can, before they start booming in popularity and become hard to get!

Related: T’s GALLERY
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