Siberia, Unusual Confectionery Loved for 108 Years; Rare Treat That Was Once Everywhere

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kotei Bakery’s chic brick exterior

Since its opening in 1916, Kotei Bakery near JR Sakuragicho Station has sold a pastry called siberia, a slice of yokan bean jelly sandwiched between pieces of sponge cake. The pastries, when lined up on old wooden racks, resemble piano keys.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Siberia yokan sponge cakes, a beloved sweet since the Taisho era

There was a time when the bakery had an attached cafe and sold snacks from other shops. However, since its third owner Toshio Manaka built the current store in 1979, the model has changed to exclusively sell items made in-house. Siberia are the most beloved baked good of people who come to the little Yokohama shop, craving its gentle sweetness so much it always sells out by early afternoon.

The process of baking and cutting the cakes into 96 triangular pieces takes six hours. Manaka, 75, and his wife Itsuko, 69, get up at midnight every day to start working before the store opens at 9 a.m.

Pouring warm liquid yokan into the sponge cakes set into wooden frames requires a bit of skill. Depending on the timing when pouring, the yokan could soak into the cake or firm up too much to stick properly and cause it to fall apart.

Siberia cakes first came to be in the latter half of the Meiji period (1868-1912). There are several theories as to the origin of its strange name: The yokan part looks like the Trans-Siberian Railway running across a large snowfield, or perhaps it was invented by a confectioner who served in the Russo-Japanese War.

“My favorite [theory] is that ‘Siberia is extremely cold, and the inventor felt sorry for the yokan and wrapped it in a sponge cake overcoat,’” Manaka said.

The cakes are said to have been made at every bakery in the Taisho period (1912-1926). Because of the difficult and time-consuming process, however, few bakeries make them today. About 20 kinds of pastry sit on the shelves in Kotei, including raisin bread and amashoku sweet bread, which has been sold since the shop originally opened.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Amashoku, left, and raisin bread

Manaka will eventually reduce the number of items, thinking of his physical strength, in the future, but said, “I want to keep making siberia cakes until the end.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshio Manaka and his wife Itsuko


The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kotei Bakery

Address: 2-63 Hanasakicho, Naka Ward, Yokohama

Access: Three-minute walk from Sakuragicho Station on JR Keihin-Tohoku or Negishi lines.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on holidays). Closed Sundays.