Category Archives: foodie
Last week was my partner’s bday. & just where do you suppose she wanted to go? Why, where every Japanese woman, especially those who are pastry chefs, want to go: Es Koyama! Es Koyama is the most popular, most famous & arguably best cake shop in Kansai, no Japan! What does this entail? The freshest, most sublime cake experience you could possibly imagine, + a lengthy commute n’ 2 hour line-ups.
From what I understand, pastry chef Mr. Koyama began near Kobe’s Oji-Koen with a small size cake shop of no more than 3 or 4 staff. The shop whipped up French influenced favourites of the Japanese such as roll cake, Swiss roll to westerners, strawberry short-cake, as well as German baumkuchen & stollen. Since the beginning these Koyama staples have been in high demand & business brisk. But as it quickly became known that Es Koyama’s cakes are the best, demand exceeded capacity & Koyama felt the need to expand.
What is unique about this success story is what Mr. Koyama proceeded to do & what secured Es Koyama’s place at the top of the pastry world: Es Koyama relocated to a somewhat rural n’ pastoral location on the outskirts of Sanda, a satellite of both Kobe & Osaka. Why? The fresh air, & presumably the proximity to suppliers of top quality ingredients such as cream, eggs & wheat.
The result? Koyama Ville! The Koyama roll in particular, grew so immensely popular that the new location quickly outgrew its size & so a 2nd, then 3rd, 4th & eventually 5th building was added! These additional 2nd storey structures house a café -which we had to wait over 2 hours, with reservation, to get into- a French bakery complete with French bakers, macaroon shop, chocolatier, offices, as well as baking & cooking school spaces named ‘studios’ or ‘labos’ depending on their specific purpose.
Now, the first thing that crossed my mind while experiencing this cake extravaganza was that Mr. Koyama must be a marketing & management wiz, in addition to being a brilliant patisserie. After all, there I was in Koyama-Ville, about a 1-hour commute out of the urban Kansai area, & yet there were swarms of people, waiting anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours from some roll cake!?!?!? Unlike ourselves, who took the train, most customers seem to drive to Koyama-Ville, some from as far away as Hokkaido! Furthermore, it seems that the popularity of this location has led Koyama-Ville to be a bit of a victim of success, in that it is not secluded on the edge of rural Hyogo as it was just 5 years ago, but is now completely surrounded by surface parking for the hordes that visit, & suburban tract housing that has crept up over the years from northern Kobe.
Giving Es Koyama’s loci & current place, could it not have been possible to locate in an urban setting from the start? Perhaps in a central Kobe ward where Es Koyama could benefit from a community of cake shops and foodies, as in Chuo-ward’s Sakaimachi? Are property values too high for a virtual goldmine that’s sales easily exceed that of the competition? How about Nagata, a grossly undervalued central ward with character & development potential if there ever was one. At the very least, could a setting that didn’t require the largely unsustainable energy sources of suburban tract developments have been chosen? Could a site with easier access by public & common transportation, that dissuades people from driving, have been selected? Would such a locale have taken Es Koyama to even greater heights?
Koyama’s cakes are indeed divine, & Koyama-Ville is as worthy of a visit as Ghibli or USJ, but I am convinced that the experience of Koyama-Ville could be enhanced by a more appealable, sustainable space that is either very bucolic, or definitively urban. So, delicious, but the next time I want cake I’ll pass on Koyama & patron a different pastry shop, one of quality, taste, creativity and location: Mont Plus in Sakaimachi, Kobe.