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Squishy, Powdery and Oh-So-Sweet: Japanese Pastries In Chinatown Hit The Mark

Apr 16, 2019

One popular stop in Fresno’s Chinatown is Kogetsu-Do, a Japanese shop with a long history over on F Street.

Lynn Ikeda-Yada owns the shop, whose name means "lake moon," and she’s the third generation to do so. Her grandparents migrated to Chinatown from Hiroshima, Japan.

There’s even a blown-up photo on the wall of her grandparents and uncle in the same space Ikeda-Yada’s shop occupies today.

“My grandparents started it in 1915,” says Ikeda-Yada. “That picture was taken in 1920 and they had two sons: Roy, who’s the little boy there, and my dad, Mas.”

Lynn Ikeda-Yada says this photo of her grandparents and uncle was taken in the shop in 1920. The space looks different today, but the sides are still lined with display cases showing gifts and mochi.
Credit Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

Today, Ikeda-Yada runs Kogetsu-Do almost single handedly, with a little help from her daughter. She sells ice cream and gifts, but the star of the show is a display case full of sweets: Traditional Japanese pastries called manju and mochi.

“These two are the whole beans, this is the red bean smooth, the mochi has rice flour on the outside,” explains Ikeda-Yada, pointing to wooden shelves of pink, green, white and purple pastries, each individually wrapped in plastic wrap. “This one is the whole beans with soybean powder on the outside called kinako. There’s cinnamon apple, peach, apricot, cherry, blueberry, raspberry and boysenberry.”

 

They’re like sweet little dumplings, only instead of bread or pasta, the sugary fillings are wrapped in a sticky dough made of rice. She sells mochi ice cream, too.

Kogetsu-do is the only place between The Bay Area and Southern California to find authentic mochi.

One of the many display cases shows varieties of manju and mochi. Ikeda-Yada makes all of them by hand.
Credit Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

Ikeda-Yada says the best part of making mochi is her customers' reactions when they take that first bite. But ask her what her favorite flavor is, and she can’t come up with one.

“I don’t eat it,” Lynn says.”I guess because [when] you see it every day, you don’t crave for it.”

But for reporting purposes, these journalists had to try a few. We pick out a lima bean manju and red bean smooth to snack on: Laura tries the lima bean, and Kerry the smooth red bean.

We come to the consensus that the Japanese dessert is a smooth, delicious treat.

Reporter Kerry Klein tries a smooth red bean flavored manju.
Credit Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio

This shop has survived the Depression, the Recession and even Japanese internment during World War II. Ikeda-Yada says a Chinese family kept watch here while her parents and grandparents were sent to concentration camps in Arkansas.

But with all of the changes in the Fresno Chinatown neighborhood, would she ever consider moving the business?

“Not really, because people know where I'm at, and this is where it all started,” says Ikeda-Yada.

Reporter Laura Tsutsui tries the lima bean manju.
Credit Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

We see why people come back. We also leave with a couple boxes of mochi to share.