Kids Web Japan

Saitama: Soka Rice Crackers

Soy sauce flavored Soka rice crackers

Snap! Crunch! Munch!

There are many types of rice crackers, or senbei, in Japan. Sweet, savory, soft, and hard – rice crackers come in many textures and flavors. Which is perhaps why rice crackers are one of the most popular snack foods in Japan. Something to nibble on while watching TV, or a snack to offer a guest who comes round for tea, rice crackers have been a part of Japanese life for generations.

Soka rice crackers are a specialty and traditional craft of Soka City in Saitama prefecture. Made from carefully selected ingredients and a traditional cooking process, Soka rice crackers are widely known for a distinctive, crispy texture and delicious, rich flavor.

Saitama is a short train ride from Tokyo, offering beautiful countryside in areas like Nagatoro, with hiking trails and white-water rapid adventures.

The Legend of Soka Rice Cracker

Baking rice crackers on an open grill

Soka rice crackers first began appearing in the Edo period (1603 - 1868). Back then, Soka was a post town on the Nikko Highway, a busy road connecting Edo (now Tokyo) to the popular city of Nikko. Travelers passing through Soka would often buy provisions at the town. With a plentiful supply of rice in the area, Soka was full of shops selling rice dumplings.

According to legend, Soka rice crackers were invented by Osen, a rice dumpling-seller with a mind for business. Looking for a way to use up day-old rice dumplings, she got the idea from a passing samurai to roll them flat and sell them as grilled crackers. She flavored the rice crackers with soy sauce and created a snack that was portable, long-lasting, and tasty. It was a huge hit. Since then, Soka rice crackers have gone from being a profitable use of leftover stock, to a nationally recognized traditional craft.

There are more than 100 varieties on offer: from sesame and seaweed to sugar and hot pepper flavors.

There are over 50 rice cracker shops in Soka, and the enticing aroma of crackers wafts through the shop fronts.

Perfecting the Crunch

Not every rice cracker can be a Soka rice cracker. Craftsman must train for 10 years before they can be a skillful Soka rice cracker maker. Luckily not everyone has to wait ten years: there are many shops offering the chance to bake your own.

Hands-on experience baking Soka rice crackers

Experiencing the craft firsthand is a fun and popular way to learn more about this tradition and enjoy freshly grilled rice crackers.

Soka rice crackers are flattened with a special press called an oshigawara during the grilling process. This stops the crackers from bubbling up, and gives Soka rice crackers their characteristic crunch.

There’s nothing like the taste of your first handmade rice cracker, and baking your own is a popular activity for popular with people visiting Soka. The toasty fragrance of freshly-grilled rice crackers that charmed Japanese travelers of the Edo period, now entices travelers from all over the world.