(THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - MATSUDO, Chiba - Koppepan, a kind of bread roll that resembles a hot dog bun, is well known to people in Japan who are middle-aged or older.
Now a speciality bakery is producing these bread rolls, which are used to highlight regional specialities around the nation.
The Nihon Retto Pankui Kyoso shop - a name that expresses the joy staff members aim to give customers by making bread - opened last November in the hope of helping people feel like they are travelling through various parts of the nation by train.
The shop's koppepan goes well with various foods, including sweets.
About 3,000 people visit the shop each month, which is a five-minute walk from Minoridai Station on the Shinkeisei Line.
Its interior and exterior design is modelled on station buildings in the Showa era (1926-89), with a toy train running on a rail overhead.
Staff members also wear uniforms inspired by those for salespeople aboard Shinkansen bullet trains. Unlike regular bakeries, visitors to Nihon Retto Pankui Kyoso first have to buy a ticket at a vending machine.
Owner Masayuki Ueno opened the shop to take advantage of the recent popularity of koppepan. The 39-year-old, who also runs another bakery in Kashiwa in the prefecture, serves customers in the late afternoon almost every day.
The shop offers a large selection of koppepan with 24 kinds of fillings, including edamame bean paste from Sendai, Nagoya pork cutlets with miso sauce, Osaka takoyaki octopus dumplings and Fukuoka seasoned cod roe and takana spicy pickled leaves. The bread rolls are priced from 170 yen (S$2) to 420 yen each.
The koppepan can help the fillings taste even more delicious. Filling your mouth with freshly cooked bread, you can appreciate its fluffy texture and mild flavour. Just one koppepan can make you feel full, as each one has a relatively large amount of the filling.
"I hope my shop's products will help foreign tourists and younger people discover the appeal of koppepan," said owner Ueno. "Hopefully, this Matsudo area will be vitalised by attracting more bread fans."
Nihon Retto Pankui Kyoso
Where: 7-14-1-104 Minoridai, Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture; go to pankui-japan.com; open: 10am to 7pm (koppepan sales end when sold out)