But their products do show up packaged upon shelves throughout the nation. And one in particular has become a bit of guilty pleasure for me.
The Hokkaido Steamed Cheesecake (北海道チーズ蒸しケーキ) is one of the most beguiling and strange things that pass for normal here. In truth, it's not really that good, but like a bad habit, I crave it.
Here's what it is. The most perplexing sponge cake. It tends to shear when broken or bitten in to. How do they do that? The "branded" reverse outline of Hokkaido on the top has a vaguely cheesy edge to it. Slightly funky. The steaming of the dough tends to make it a bit dense, but not quite as dense as cheesecake as we know it. Yet not quite fluffy. Oh, and it's sweet and filled with calories.
Research has come up goose eggs on whether this is a real variation of something traditionally made in Hokkaido or something made up in the laboratories of Daily Yamazaki in those heady years immediately after the war, when the US was flooding Japan with government cheese, flour and sugar. In my imagination, a certain Japanese ingenuity with the products at hand created this monster that can still be frightening and a friend of children after all these years.