Where Japan’s doughnut boom started

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A variety of doughnuts are seen in a display case at Japan’s first Mister Donut shop in Minoo, Osaka Prefecture.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The number 0001 on the sign indicates that the shop in Minoo, Osaka Prefecture, is the country’s first Mister Donut franchise.

OSAKA — Doughnuts are undeniably popular across all generations. Although shops selling Western-style “circles of happiness” are ubiquitous today, their widespread success in Japan started with the opening of the first Mister Donut shop half a century ago.

Now boasting about 1,000 shops nationwide, Japan’s first Mister Donut opened in 1971 at a shopping center in Minoo, Osaka Prefecture.

Half century of doughnuts

The Minoo store’s orange and white interior oozes an atmosphere that makes me think of 1970s United States. Located near Hankyu Minoo Station, the round sign outside displays the number 0001, which means it is the first shop in Japan. The shop is usually crowded.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mister Donut in Japan, the shop was retro-renovated using the chain’s original color scheme.

Tomomi Harita of Minoo, who visited the shop with her eldest son in high school, said with a smile, “We’re proud of the fact that Minoo has the country’s first Mister Donut shop.”

Minoo residents can thank Seiichi Suzuki, then president of Osaka-based rental cleaning equipment supplier Duskin Co., who, while on a visit to the United States, was impressed by the deliciousness of doughnuts and the smiles of people eating them.

This experience convinced him to try to operate doughnut shops in Japan, and he got in touch with the U.S. company Mister Donut and got the franchise rights in Japan.

When selecting the site for the country’s first Mister Donut shop, Suzuki faced difficulty, because the U.S. side was reluctant to accept his candidate locations.

The turning point came when major supermarket operator The Daiei Inc. asked him to open a Mister Donut shop in a large shopping center that was being built in the suburban area of Minoo.

Some officials at Duskin voiced concern over whether the shop could attract customers. However, Suzuki thought that a success in the suburbs would pave the way for the national rollout of Mister Donut shops and decided to open the first shop in Minoo.

Revived by signatures

The Minoo shop opened in April 1971. Since Japanese people were familiar with doughnuts that were like deep-fried bread, they were shocked by the soft, melt-in-the-mouth feeling and crispy texture. Customers flocked to the shop from across the entire Kansai region and doughnuts sold out as soon as they hit the display case.

Although the shop was loved by locals, it was forced to shut down along with the closure of the shopping center in 2001. However, signatures of more than 400 citizens wishing for the reopening of the shop led Mister Donut to reopen it at almost the same location in 2004.

Sae Nakata, the 38th manager of the shop, said: “The first shop is still here thanks to local residents. Seeing customers enjoying doughnuts makes me happy as well. ”

Connecting people

Besides the first Mister Donut shop, Minoo has another beloved local doughnut shop called Donuts Dept. It is run by Kentaro Nakao and his wife, Noriko.

About 10 years ago, Kentaro, who at the time was involved in the production of radio programs in Osaka, decided to open a doughnut shop. He believed that people tended not to fight with each other while eating delicious food, and reckoned that doughnuts could help people enjoy their lives.

When he looked for a location for his store, he visited Minoo, about which he had no idea except that Japan’s first Mister Donut shop was there. Since the city was rich in nature and had a good atmosphere, he decided to open his store there.

Plain doughnuts with a mild taste are the shop’s best seller. Doughnuts made without dairy products are also popular.

“Regular customers bring their friends to our shop,” Noriko said. “It seems to me that doughnuts help connect people.”