Japan is such a dedicated foodie culture that I feel like any food it gets its hands on turns into something magical. Take bread, for instance. While the making of bread dates back to feudal Japan, it wasn't made in earnest until the country's isolation policy was broken in the 1850s. Flash forward to the 21st century. Bread can hardly be said to be a staple of the Japanese diet; it is, more than anything, treated more as a luxury, or occasionally included in breakfast. That doesn't stop Japanese breadmakers and bakeries from producing some of the pillowiest, mouth-watering bread I've ever laid my mouth on. Even shokupan (食パン), or normal white bread sold at the supermarket, is, in terms of freshness and taste, miles ahead of anything I've ever had in the states outside of a good bakery.

Japanese bread from 7-11.
Normal, white bread produced for 7-11 in Japan kicks my country's bread's ass. Errr...heel. (Image courtesy of TAKA@P.P.R.S. under a Creative Commons license.)

But one resort has decided to take Japanese bread to the next level - and it's causing customers to line up out the door. The shop is Bakery & Table Hakone (ベーカリー&テーブル箱根) in Hakone, a beautiful hot springs town in the mountains on the east coast of Japan, just about 90 minutes from Tokyo. The store's star is its rice curry bread (米粉のカレーパン), but you get more than bread with the price of admission: you get a seat near a footbath overlooking Ashinoko (芦ノ湖), the breathtaking mountain lake at the heart of Hakone.

Footbath terrace at Bakery and Table Hakone.
The footbath terrace at Bakery and Table Hakone.

According to Toyo Keizai, the store is run by the obscure R&M Resort Group, which began selling its curry bread at a tourist hotel in Akakura, a hot springs town in Niigata Prefecture. The founder, Director Ishii Ryuuji, originally made his mark abroad as the head of Advanced Fresh Concepts, a company that popularized the concept of sushi as takeout food outside of Japan. He took over the historic Akakura resort when it fell into financial trouble, keeping all of the existing employees and kickstarting it back to life in 2004. That hotel's bakery was the first in-hotel bakery in Japan, and Ishii kept its recipes and baking methods intact when the hotel re-opened.

Since then, Ishii has made a sort of specialty of rescuing historic resorts that have fallen on hard times. Ishii's management group later came up with the idea of combining Akakura's successful bakery with a footbath terrace for one of its other properties, Toufuya, as a way to attract day customers to the out-of-the-way resort.

Thus was born Bakery and Table Toufuya and its flagship Curry Bread, made from a blend of rice and wheat flour, and encasing a combination of curry sauce and a parboiled egg. The idea moved to Hakone in July 2013, where it's proven just as fruitful, with people on weekends lining up out the door before the bakery opens. The store estimates it sells up to 8,000 pieces of curry bread on a single non-workday. The store has actually proven too popular for its small size, but Ishii's management team doesn't plan to open up a second store unless a suitable location emerges.

I have to say that I'm kicking myself for missing out on this place on my last visit to Hakone. My wife and I just may have to make another day trip out there later this year specifically to get our hands on that curry bread. (And no, I can't bring you back any...but I do promise to post pictures.) For now, you can also check out the site Macaroni (below) for some quite food porn-y shots of Bakery and Table Hakone's flagship treat.

(JP) Link: The Reason Hakone's "Curry Bread and Footbath" Set is Popular

箱根「カレーパン・足湯」セットが人気のワケ | レジャー・観光・ホテル

(JP) Link: Bakery & Cafe Hakone, The Popular Cafe Where You Can Relax in a Foot Bath and See Ashinoko in a Single Sweep

足湯でゆったり♩「ベーカリー&テーブル箱根」は芦ノ湖が一望できる人気カフェ - macaroni