OSAKA – A bean-paste bun that takes its name from a buzzword associated with the cronyism allegations leveled at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2017 has become a hit for the design firm that came up with the product.
About 100,000 boxes of Sontaku Manju (Sontaku Buns) have been sold in the six months since it launched, says Heso Production in Osaka.
Sontaku — which means acting on the unspoken wishes of others after speculating about their feelings — became one of the buzzwords of the year because it was central to the favoritism scandals implicating the prime minister.
Filled with sweet bean paste, the bun is imprinted with the kanji for sontaku and is being snapped up by businesspeople who want to use it as an ice breaker in business talks, according to Heso Production President Minoru Inamoto, 41.
Abe was suspected of pulling favors for two school operators closely tied to him. The Moritomo Gakuen scandal involved a decision to sell a chunk of state-owned land to the school at a steep discount, and the other involved approving a friend’s application to build Japan’s first new veterinary school in half a century. Both created a political storm for Abe throughout the year.
While Abe denied involvement in the decisions regarding the two entities, bureaucrats in the Abe administration are said to have exercised sontaku in the decision-making processes involved.
Heso Production, which develops ideas for souvenirs, came up with the idea for the bun after the president received an email from one of its clients who expressed an interest in turning sontaku into some kind of product.
When Inamoto looked into the idea, he found that despite the word’s scandalous sheen, it did not originally have a bad meaning but embodied the virtue of consideration toward others.
With that thought in mind, he decided to make a bun filled with sweet bean paste. It launched in June, with sontaku in large type on the wrapping paper.
Initially some shops declined to sell the bun in light of its political overtones, but once it hit the shelves in major Osaka shopping districts like Dotonbori and Shinsekai, it took off and orders began rushing in.
Boxes of Sontaku Manju are now sold at many shops mainly in western Japan, including at major railway stations and airports.
“Sontaku is a nice word symbolizing Japanese culture. I hope to continue respecting it,” Inamoto said.
FamilyMart Uny Holdings Co. separately sells a boxed lunch called Sontaku Gozen (Sontaku Meal) at its FamilyMart convenience stores in Japan.