The sweet and passionate feelings of the president of the Japan Anko Association for red beans.


This time we interviewed Mr. Nishii from the Japan Red Bean Paste Association.


Please introduce yourself.

My name is Anko Nishii. I’ve loved anko (red bean paste) since before I can remember, and started eating anko sweets when I was in elementary school. I graduated from university in 2005, and after working for several companies, I founded a marketing company in 2016. In 2018, I founded the Japan Anko Association.

Please briefly describe the Japan Anko Association.

The Japan Anko Association is an organization that aims to promote the interest and popularization of anko (red bean paste). Our activities, both offline and online, are focused on the following four main areas: (1) Discovering delicious red bean paste sweets that exist throughout Japan, (2) researching the history of red bean paste, (3) researching the health benefits of red bean paste, and (4) researching the possibilities of red bean paste in combination with other foods and drinks, and developing new recipes using red bean paste.

What triggered your interest in anko?

When I was in the second grade of elementary school, my mother cooked anko and made anmaki by rolling it in dough made from leftover pancake flour mix. The anmaki she made was so delicious that I begged her to make anmaki every day. Since then, I became obsessed with the taste of anko.

Please tell us about the specific activities of the Japan Anko Association.

Offline, the association organizes "Anko Club," an event to compare anko sweets, and supervises and cooperates with department stores, shopping malls, electric railway companies, local governments, etc. in planning anko-related events and campaigns throughout Japan.

On the online side, we hold "Anko Night Party," an online event where anko lovers from all over Japan can exchange information about anko, conduct nationwide surveys of anko fans, and distribute anko-related information. We also use all kinds of media, from mass media such as TV and radio to the Internet to disseminate information on anko and contribute articles to newspapers and magazines.

In addition, Mr. Nishi is an ambassador for the "Thankful Sugar Movement" organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan. The goal of this campaign is to spread the correct knowledge about sugar.



What efforts are you making to promote the appeal of anko outside of Japan?

We provide podcast materials that explain news about anko and Japanese sweets in both Japanese and English so that people overseas can understand the appeal of anko.

What are the different types of anko and what variations are there in their usage?

There are four main types of anko made from azuki beans: tsubu-an, tsubushi-an, koshi-an, and okura-an. Tsubu-an and tsubushi-an are anko with the azuki bean skin remaining, so they have a distinct texture on the tongue. This is why they tend to be used in traditional anko sweets such as dorayaki and anpan (buns with red bean paste).

On the other hand, koshi-an is made by cooking azuki beans, removing the outer skin, and kneading the mixture with sugar. Therefore, it tends to be used in traditional red bean paste sweets such as yokan, mizu-yokan, kuzu manju, and mizu-manju, which are smooth and silky to the palate. Ogura-an refers to anko made of koshi-an and large red beans called dainagon-azuki, but because dainagon-azuki is of the high-end variety, it is often used in high-class Japanese sweets.

The typical ingredient for anko is azuki beans, but there are a wide variety of other types, including sweet potato bean paste, chestnut bean paste, pumpkin bean paste, sesame bean paste, and white bean paste. Recently, white bean paste made from overseas white beans, which have a very light flavor have appeared. By mixing fruit juices and flavors, many more variations have appeared, such as strawberry bean paste, lemon bean paste, ramune bean paste, wine bean paste, etc. The variety of bean paste that can be made in factories now number in the hundreds.


What are some of the best sweets and dishes using anko in particular?

First of all, I would like to encourage people to try the classic Japanese anko sweets. Specifically, dorayaki, daifuku, taiyaki, yokan, and anpan. We also recommend that you try a spoonful of anko itself and eat it as is.



What do you think is the difference between Japanese anko sweets and foreign sweets?

In foreign cultures, I don't think people have the idea of eating sweetened beans. Although various historical backgrounds are involved in this food culture, anko is said to have originated from "red bean paste" in dim sum introduced from mainland China during the Asuka period.

”An” means "something to be stuffed inside," and it was originally a salty mixture of stewed meat and vegetables. There are several theories as to when red bean paste, or anko as we know it today, first appeared, but it is believed to have been during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). At that time, Zen Buddhism was flourishing and meat was forbidden to monks, who substituted it for azuki beans, which were similarly red and had been eaten since ancient times as a good luck charm in place of meat.

However, at this point, the taste was still salty, not the sweet red bean paste that we modern Japanese know. Sugar was used for medicinal purposes by a small percentage of aristocrats and other members of high society, and amazurasen, a syrup made by boiling down the sap of ivy trees, existed as a sweetener, but it was not something that the ordinary people could enjoy.

Anko became sweet from the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the Edo period (1603-1868). This was when the so-called powerful men of the time, such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Maeda Toshitsune of Kaga, and Matsudaira Harusato of Matsue, were devoted to tea ceremony. Along with the flourishing of the tea culture, confectionery making also blossomed, giving birth to a great variety of Japanese sweets. It was around this time that many anko sweets that are prevalent today began to appear in various parts of Japan.

In addition, traditional anko sweets are said to be very healthy, as they are rich in carbohydrates and protein, the three major nutrients, but have almost no fat. Today, they are gaining worldwide recognition as a popular snack for athletes and bodybuilders. Azuki is also rich in dietary fiber, polyphenols, and is expected to have anti-aging effects.

What are your goals and plans for the future?

We would like to engage in activities, both online and offline, that will help spread the appeal of anko and its potential as a sweet all over the world.



Please give a message to our readers.

Anko is not only sweet and delicious, but also very healthy. In Japan, there are a variety of traditional anko sweets, and nowadays it is commonplace to find anko used in Western sweets such as cream puffs, parfaits, and cakes. We hope that you will try various anko sweets, both old and new, and enjoy the taste of anko. 


Thank you for sharing your passion and insights with us, Mr. Nishii. Your boundless love for anko truly shines through, and it's inspiring to learn how deep and rich the world of anko can be. Now, I can't wait to eat some anko sweets myself. I hope the appeal of anko will be conveyed to the world and that more people will discover its unique and delightful flavors.


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Interviewed by Yukako Harada