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Anpanman: Our Bread Messiah

A “Japanese Breads and Cakes” Special

Alexis Ibarra-Ibarra

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to take a Global Politics course with a Japanese sensei. He was nice and funny, but he was also a little bit cynical about how power works (try more REALISTIC), particularly in Asia. However, he admitted that being the nation of “cartoons” was a big plus for foreign policy because it was easier for them to promote the image of being a nation of peace. Then, he said with a big smile: “For example… Anpanman!”

“Who the hell was Anpanman?!”

When he mentioned “the nation of cartoons”, we were all thinking about internationally popular anime (or manga) and even videogame characters, but our sensei revealed a name that we had never heard of in our entire lives. He was so surprised and disappointed, realizing we had no idea what he was talking about. He was probably also trying to digest how lost he was on what foreigners were consuming from Japanese Pop Culture compared to General Culture in Japan. As I could verify later, Anpanman is something MAJOR for them. It’s a character that was created during the famine after the Second World War to teach children to be selfless and share the little stuff they had with others. It’s still super important in Japan (and in other Asian countries). In essence, every Japanese kid has read the books and watched the anime of Go! Anpanman [それいけ! アンパンマン].

I feel bad because I haven’t watched it, but, in short, Anpanman is a fascinating and extremely weird superhero. His head is a big Anpan (a Sweet Red Bean Bun), and his superpower consists of sharing parts of his bread-head with the ones in need. He literally rips pieces off his head to give it to others! He kind of sounds like Jesus (a.k.a. JC). However, setting aside the similarities with JC’s way of life surrounding his love for bread and sharing his body for human consumption and/or cannibalism, Anpanman is TOTALLY different from him. Our superhero and The Cake future messiah sacrificed himself for every being in need, and, because of it, he is already worshipped and adored by millions. Moreover, he’s that invisible friend that accompanies every Japanese person since their childhood and reminds them to be kind, selfless, compassionate and share with the less fortunate. All of which, CLEARLY, separate JC from Anpanman.

During the tough Post-war period, Yanase Takashi was hallucinating about eating one of those buns that most Japanese consider delicious. Obviously, starvation would lead anyone to create a hero that tears off parts of his bread-head. Therefore, that’s how Anpanman was born.

Honestly, I think we deserve more bread superheroes in our lives and less tedious Superman/Captain America’s movies. So, the brightside of the Apocalypse arriving, all the panic shopping and the consequential growing food scarcity on SUPERmarkets is that we will get new bread superheroes soon!  

Anyway, this Japanese bun could be hard to understand for “Western” taste (whatever that means). Beans (that rhymed!) are usually not considered dessert, so just the description can cause a shock for foreigners. Anpan is quite delicious, but for some, it could be an acquired taste (at least, it was for me). The first time I tried it, I did it outside Japan, and I didn’t like it. I had to fake I was pleased with it because all my friends were on ecstasy. But, it was chewy, sandy, and vaguely sweet. When I tried it in Japan, I liked it, but I still wasn’t a fan of the texture of the filling: it was just as sandy as the one I tried before. However, after spending some time in Japan, I got used to the sweet red beans, and now I love the flavor. I guess that’s how it usually goes with national cuisines everywhere.

Anpan is something you should try if you are a foodie or in love with Japanese Food, Culture, and Pop Culture (you need to taste the drawings). More importantly, eating this bun is part of the initiation ritual you will complete to join our Cultish Bread-Centered Church: “The Wonderful Bread World”. Because The Cake | us vs reality is all about brainwashing you to join us, you should better get ready for that. We live under the premise that bread is important and delicious, so it should be shared with everyone while it’s still warm and fresh. Since only a totally uncool person would think otherwise, we are completely sure you’ll eventually join us.

Lastly, just keep reading, pray to the bread messiah Anpanman, and you will be rewarded with some cake!

Fun Facts:

a) Japan didn’t have any bread until the Portuguese introduced it after the “West” forced them to open their borders. That’s why bread is called Pan [パン], like in Portuguese (and Spanish).

b) K-Pop fans: BTS have a song named ANPANMAN.

Featured image taken from Amazon Japan.

2 replies on “Anpanman: Our Bread Messiah”

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