‘Raw’ Donuts at Center of Latest Donut Boom in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A variety of donuts sit on shelves at the I’m donut? store in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

Donuts are having another wave of popularity in what is being called the fifth boom since the sweet treat became widely eaten in the country in the 1970s.

A variety of stores and manufacturers are releasing products with unique textures and flavors, grabbing people’s attention.

In the intense heat of late August, about 50 people formed a line in front of the Shibuya branch of the I’m donut? chain. The big draw for the chain, which has four shops in Tokyo and Fukuoka City, is its signature blend of ingredients deep-fried at a high temperature. This is also called a “raw donut” because it is crispy on the outside but melty inside. In addition to a plain flavor, the shop also offers chocolate and green tea, priced from ¥200 to ¥300.

“I want to enjoy the donut’s popular texture with my friends,” said Hayato Koyanagi, a 37-year-old office worker in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, after purchasing 12 donuts.

Donuts are said to have spread across the country after a major U.S. donut chain started business here in the 1970s. The sweet has had several booms in the past. In the 2000s, products with a chewy texture became a big craze, and another long-established U.S. brand entered the Japanese market. The latest boom centers on the raw donuts and those filled with cream.

Kazumi Mizorogi, an illustrator who authored “Donatsu no Tabi” (Donut journey) by Graphic-sha Publishing Co., is a self-proclaimed donut enthusiast who eats about 500 varieties a year. “Donuts are essentially a quick snack. In recent years, more people have come to enjoy eating the simple and convenient sweet with coffee, and the number of donut shops has increased, and not just from chain stores,” Mizorogi said. “In addition, the demand for takeout foods during the coronavirus pandemic helped to boost interest.”

Park Store, a cheesecake specialty store in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, sells fist-sized donuts without a hole that are filled to the brim with cream. The homemade filling produced with cheese has a refreshing tang. The store developed the product by taking into account feedback from its fans about its size and flavors. The donuts turned out to be so popular that they sometimes sell out. They can be purchased online too.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Donuts at Park Store in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo

Piece of Bake, which started in Umeda in Osaka last November, opened a store in Kichijoji, Tokyo, in March. The shop has a reputation for its limited-time offerings of fresh donuts made with fresh cream and custard cream from Hokkaido mixed with seasonal fruits and other ingredients. The shop plans to offer fresh donuts with sweet potato and pumpkin flavors in autumn.

Courtesy of Piece of Bake
Fresh donuts from Piece of Bake in Kichijoji, Tokyo

Major chain stores and convenience stores are also feeding the boom.

Mister Donut is selling a “fresh French cruller” with softer dough than that of the classic French cruller and a moist mouthfeel through September, as well as a seasonal baked sweet potato flavor.

Major convenience store chain FamilyMart Co. is also selling fresh donuts filled with a mixture of custard and whipped cream at about 16,500 of its stores nationwide.

Mizorogi said, “An increasing number of stores are using freshly fried donuts as their selling point. I’ll be watching the trend closely.”