Translated by Jelena Kitamura
Dandelion Chocolate Cafe In Kuramae - The Story Behind Its Popularity
Written by Mami Wakamatsu
We bring you an interview with Mr. Horibuchi, who introduced Dandelion Chocolate to Japan from America. At their Kuramae store, they offer a new chocolate brand Bean to Bar, and Mr. Horibuchi is here to tell a story about their special mission.
In February 2016, in Tokyo’s Kuramae, a very unusual cafe opened its doors to visitors – its name is Dandelion Chocolate Factory & Cafe Kuramae, and it is a special combination of a factory and a cafe, offering a famous San Francisco chocolate brand, Bean to Bar.
What Is Bean to Bar Chocolate?
Bean to Bar is a completely new genre or brand of chocolate, that was created during America’s “craft foods” boom.
What sets this brand apart from others is the all handmade-done process accompanying its production – first, the fact that they use one type of cocoa beans, hand-picked from a particular production area, to create their refined, non-blended chocolate (their so-named “single-origin” chocolate). Secondly, the process of roasting, grinding, mixing, and such – every step of the chocolate-producing procedure, is done by hand by devoted craftspeople. They go by the way of small-scale lot production, which results in first-class tasting chocolate carefully and affectionately made step by step.
Seiji Horibuchi, Who Brought Dandelion Chocolate to Japan
But, Dandelion Chocolate isn’t just a place where you can savor Bean to Bar's first-class chocolate.
Here you’ll find the almost forgotten spirit of old Japan, the ideals and principles today’s people don’t seem to value as much, but by which all people should live – those principles are present and incorporated in their special chocolate-producing environment. You’ll find the craftsmanship spirit, plans and ideas to create a sustainable-resources oriented society, a strong passion to protect local tradition and culture from the flow of the time, the desire to create a lively and compassionate local community, and other similar activities and ideas.
Today, we’ve visited Mr. Seiji Horibuchi, the person-in-charge for Dandelion Chocolate Japan production, and asked him a few questions about their activities.
He was born in Tokushima in 1952. After graduating from Waseda University with a degree in law, he went to America in 1975. In 1986, he partook in the creation of Biz Communication, with the desire to introduce Japanese manga comics to American society. In 2006, he was included in Newsweek’s list of 100 Japanese People the World Respects. He founded NEWPEOPLE, Inc. in San Francisco in 2011, and has been popularizing movies, fashion, music, art, and other forms of Japanese pop culture ever since. In February 2016, he opened the first overseas Dandelion Chocolate Japan store in Kuramae, Tokyo.
A Chocolate Movement in Japan!
Please, tell us more about the reason or motive behind introducing Dandelion Chocolate to Japanese people.
Mr. Horibuchi: Well, it all started when I was informed about an interesting store in San Francisco, so I went there to inquire about it. My very first impression was that it was “stylish and cool”. It was a whole new concept for me, to see their factory accompanied by a cafe, as well as their creating an excellent chocolate with the simplest ingredients – cocoa beans and some natural cane sugar.
Actually, at that time there was already one store in Japan offering Bean to Bar chocolate to Japanese customers, but I got the idea to become somewhat of a leader (store) for introducing Bean to Bar chocolate to Japan, to create, so to speak, a through and through Bean to Bar movement in my home country. It wasn’t because I thought it would go big should someone introduce it to the Japanese market, I wasn’t interested in that aspect at all. It was because I wanted for it to become a new cultural form in Japan and because I found sustainable resources to be a great business chance for the future, and another interesting chance to create a brand new form of culture in the future.
What Is Necessary to Create, Expand, and Maintain a Culture Trend?
What do you think is necessary to create and widen a culture trend, and for it to become deeply rooted in a society?
Mr. Horibuchi: Well, the keys points might be in the “fresh (new) and innovative”.
You could say that idea applies even to the Dandelion Chocolate itself. That ideology could be the very thought behind the origins of chocolate, but the interesting thing is that it didn’t appear in the place where chocolate originated from, Europe, but in America. The West Coast is the birth place of the so-called “happy culture”, where both handcrafting and natural sources are appreciated by many, and it laid the ground for creating a new cultural form such as Bean to Bar. It truly is a form of “innovation”.
The Charm of Kuramae, The City of Handcrafts
Kuramae, the place where the first Dandelion Chocolate store is located, is an area in Tokyo situated a 10-minute walk from the famous tourist spot Asakusa. Originally an old shopping district in Edo period, it was famous for its many local handicraft stores. It paints the picture of a serene, relaxing neighborhood with a modest but beautiful Japanese scenery.
What was the reason for choosing Kuramae for your store?
Mr. Horibuchi: I didn’t plan on choosing Kuramae for store’s place from the beginning, I just happened to find a magnificent place for it. We managed to build both a factory and a cafe, right in front of a park full of vibrant greenery. It occurred to me that that place really matches the “dandelion” philosophy very well.
What is so great about Kuramae?
Mr. Horibuchi: I’d say it’s the idle, or the “passengers-free”, atmosphere. (laugh) Also, the connection with the handicrafting culture, since this place was known as a manufacturing area in the past.
Although not large, this is a place where many smaller entrepreneurs gather, running restaurants, bakeries, tea shops, and other craft stores. That makes it an excellent environment for anyone striving to run their own business.
Dandelion Chocolate’s Mission
How do you feel about the art of handicrafting being forgotten little by little in today’s society?
Mr. Horibuchi: It is a difficult problem to deal with. Especially if someone asks you if it is possible to feed your family with just a “handicrafting business”.
Still, I find today’s society to be slowly shifting from mass-production-mass-consumption to producing and consuming smaller quantities of goods. I’ll go as far as to say that there’ll come the time when our planet will be in the need of some craftsmanship.
For that reason, I think this is the time to establish small communities. By creating a system of small communities (r)evolving by themselves, this big world ought to become a greater place than it is today.
In Japan, you’ll find many social and traditional features that go very well with the craftsmanship spirit, such as artisans’ pride in their work, the hospitality, the discerning eye (minding the smallest things), and other cultural and national characteristics. That is why I want Japanese communities to emulate our [Dandelion Chocolate’s] sustainable craftsmanship ideas. I want people not only from Japan but from the rest of the world as well, to realize its potential and (value) ideology.
As a matter of fact, that precisely is the mission of Dandelion Chocolate. Even the people who established this company back in America thought of it not so much as a means of business, but as a special task. They also want everyone to copy their ideology. That is why they make sourcing reports public, organize factory tours, and undertake other similar practices.
Impossible to Have the Same Store Everywhere
Are there any peculiarities of the store, which reflect the local atmosphere of Kuramae?
Mr. Horibuchi: Of course! I think it is only natural for a store to reflect the strong points and charms of the surrounding area.
As for our store’s interior, we decided to go for a warm and cozy image, so we put the natural resources and means to a full use. Since there is a park in front of our Kuramae store, where many children come every day, we thought the “cool and reserved” look just wouldn’t fit the atmosphere of the place.
Other than that, we want to protect the special artisans’ ambiance of Kuramae, and we try hard to preserve strong bonds existing between Kuramae community’s members. Following the idea of one of our staff members, we even did the collaboration with Kuramae’s local tea shop.
As for the shops to be opened in the future, of course, we are planning to preserve the original Dandelion Chocolate ideology and concepts, but at the same time, we want to incorporate the local charms, building style, surrounding area, community features, and the customers’ needs, to make each store unique and befitting of the area. We have no intentions of creating the exact same store in various locations.
Tell us something about the future plans for Dandelion Chocolate.
Mr. Horibuchi: It is of utmost importance to spread the word about the real beauty and charisma of Bean to Bar to wider masses. We should appeal to people with this ideology of a new craft innovation, which can connect to people on a world-wide level, overcoming the boundaries and differences between countries, nations, and races.
A Japanese Culture that the World Appreciates
Many aspects of Japanese culture, such as traditional crafts, Japanese cuisine (which made it to Intangible Cultural Heritage list), traditional art, and other, are now widely respected, appreciated, and appealing to many people from all over the world.
Nonetheless, upon hearing Mr. Horibuchi’s opinion, we realized that because there is such a vast cultural heritage in this country, in order to spread and preserve it from now on, it is important for each and every member of the community in Japan to take up many challenges and express themselves and their desires, values, and tradition, through various activities. That includes the “innovation”, and the “new and fresh” points Mr. Horibuchi was talking about, as well as the cooperation with the communities throughout the country.
There is no doubt that should you ever visit Dandelion Chocolate Factory & Cafe Kuramae, you’ll witness a different type of calm, temperate flow of time, so characteristic of the city of Kuramae.
It is a superb chance for both local, and visitors to Japan, to savor delicious cocoa sweets, and see what it’s like to relax surrounded by very downtown-like atmosphere of Kuramae. Don’t lose the opportunity to experience this side of Japanese culture as well!