A maker of wagashi (traditional Japanese confections), Toraya was founded in the early 16th century in Kyoto where it became a purveyor to the imperial court during the reign of Emperor Goyozei, which ran from 1586 to 1611. Toraya established a foothold in Tokyo in 1869, after the national capital was transferred there on the heels of the Meiji Restoration. At present, Toraya has three factories and approximately 80 shops throughout Japan, in addition to a boutique in Paris.
History of Toraya
A tiered confectionery box made in 1776
Toraya's Founding Father
By the 1600s, Toraya proprietor Enchu Kurokawa ---considered the founding father of the present-day Toraya--- had established a prosperous confectionery business in Kyoto.
The first clearly documented reference to Toraya is an existing temple records from 1600.
Also there are records dated September 15, 1635, provide a glimpse into the company's business at the time of Enchu's death. The documents include a list of 20 types of confectionery that Toraya served to the Empress Meisho on the occasion of her visit to her father's court of retirement.
Illustrated wagashi design books created during the Edo Period (1603-1867)
The Edo Period (1603 - 1867)
By the late 17th century, the Toraya name had became well known to feudal lords in many provinces including some prominent historical figures. Sales records from 1699 show that Toraya's business was thriving.
The next century brought difficulty, however, in the form of fire that devastated Kyoto in 1788. More than half of Kyoto was burned to the ground and both the Imperial palace and Toraya were destroyed. In order to overcome the crisis, the 9th-generation owner Mitsutoshi compiled a set of rules and an "employees' manual" aimed at reforming the shop. The standards he spelled out are still largely applicable today.
Shop Opening in Tokyo
The end of the Edo Period was a time of political upheaval in Japan. The transfer of the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869 proved a major turning point for Toraya which had been a purveyor to the Imperial Court for many years. After pondering whether to move to Tokyo or remain in Kyoto, Toraya moved its main operations there as well, keeping its Kyoto shop as it was. The shop was relocated several times before finally settling into its present location Akasaka, Tokyo in 1964.
Surviving the Great Kanto Earthquake and turmoil of World War II, Toraya Co. Ltd. was founded in 1948. In 1962, the company established a shop at Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro. More outlets in department stores and train stations quickly followed with the total number of Toraya outlets skyrocketing.
The company looked overseas as well. It opened a shop in Paris in 1980 and another one in New York in 1993 (closed on October 31st, 2003) with the aim of introducing the culture of Japanese confections overseas.
Toraya Archives (Toraya Bunko) were established in 1973. Ancient records, documents, literature and other articles and wide assortment of materials related to wagashi, Japanese traditional confections, are catalogued and preserved.
The current proprietor of Toraya is the 18th generation. The company now has approximately 80 shops throughout Japan, mainly in Tokyo and Kyoto. While retaining the core values the company has held for centuries, challenges to enrich the traditions and to pass on to future generations a legacy that is even brighter than the one handed is going now.