Japanese Sando - A Unique Top-Class Japanese Style Sandwich

The humble sandwich, nicknamed “sando,” is just as popular in Japan as overseas. In this article, we explore the Japanese sando and list some popular sando flavors in Japan. From the katsu sando to the wagyu beef steak sando, we also list some of the best restaurants in Tokyo where you can try these sando. The Japanese sando will surely blow your image of Japanese cuisine being just white rice, grilled fish, and miso soup away!

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How Is a Japanese Sando Different From a Regular Sandwich?

The Bread

Instead of ordinary sandwich bread, “shokupan” is typically used to make sando. Shokupan, called “milk bread” in English, is a soft white bread known for its milky sweet taste and incredible softness. It is the standard sandwich bread in Japan and is normally sliced much thicker than regular Western sandwich bread. This gives the Japanese sando an extra thick appearance, and its unique fluffiness adds a dash of satisfaction to every bite.

The Sando Ingredients

Another key characteristic of sando is that it employs a wide range of ingredients and seasonings that you won’t typically find in a sandwich elsewhere. One of the most popular examples is whipped cream and fruit which are used to make a fruit dessert sando! This makes every Japanese sando an exciting gourmet adventure.

The History of the Japanese Sando

Tracing the origin of the Japanese word for bread, “pan,” sheds light on the history of the sandwich in Japan. Its roots lie in the Portuguese word “pão,” dating back to the 16th century when Portuguese and Dutch trading ships first introduced bread to the Japanese natives. At the time, it was mainly eaten by the wealthy and those from abroad. And not long after, Japan introduced its “sakoku” isolationist policy and closed off its borders to the outside world.

Bread didn’t take off in Japan until after World War II, when America occupied Japan. During that time, rice was a scarce resource. In order to feed the hungry citizens, the Americans brought in relief shipments of wheat and powdered milk, which entrepreneurial factories turned into shokupan.

Over time, the Japanese worked adapting breads like shokupan and the dishes you could make with bread to fit their tastes. Eventually, the Japanese sando and its endless variations were created. Today, sandwiches of all varieties are loved in Japan, with a 2020 study done in Japan by LINE showing that 90% of participants liked them, with 40% picking sandwiches as one of their favorite foods.

The Basics on How To Make a Japanese Sando

A sando is just a sandwich, so it is actually quite simple to make. All you need to do is slap ingredients in between two pieces of sandwich bread. However, there are a few points to keep in mind if you want to make the perfect Japanese sando.

First, make sure you have a good, sharp knife. In Japan, the bread ears are usually removed when making a sando. However, because shokupan is so light and fluffy, it tears easily. You need a very sharp knife so that you can exert the least amount of force possible to create very clean slices.

Second, have cling wrap on hand. Many flavor variations of the Japanese sando involve thick fillings and sauces or creams, which spill out easily when you split up the sandwich. You can reduce this mess by wrapping the sando in cling wrap, using the palms of your hands to press it down, and then letting it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it.

Lastly, we recommend planning in advance where to place your ingredients based on how you want to cut up the sando. For example, if you plan to cut it straight in half, make sure you place all the ingredients so that once the Japanese sando is cut, both halves look the same. This is especially important if you want to have your sando in triangles.

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Where Can You Buy a Japanese Sando?

Japanese sandos can be found in a wide array of places in Japan, from the humble convenience store to upscale fine eateries. You can even find them as ekiben, as they make great portable meals. Why not try the same kind of sando at two or three different price points to see what the difference is for yourself?


Popular Japanese Sando Varieties and Flavors

Fruit Sando (Dessert Sando)

Japan’s fruits are famous for being expensive yet incredibly sweet and juicy, so why not try them in sandwich form? Fruit sando typically consist of seasonal fruits like strawberries, kiwis, oranges, and grapes with a luscious whipped cream topping. Each bite is sweet yet not overly so, light, and fresh.

You won’t go wrong by trying the fruit sandwiches at Sembikiya, one of Japan’s most established fruit stores. Its network of 17 stores, mostly concentrated in Tokyo and Yokohama, make partaking in its premium and high-quality fruit sando an incredibly easy task! The offerings at Sembikiya frequently change with the seasons, but what stays the same is the impeccable quality of its fruits and fruit-related offerings.

Katsu Sando

The katsu sando is the Japanese equivalent of the cutlet sandwich abroad, with “katsu” meaning “cutlet” in Japanese. The cutlet is typically either pork (tonkatsu) or beef (gyukatsu), though you might stumble upon other types of katsu such as chikin katsu (chicken cutlet), ebi katsu (shrimp cutlet), and even ham katsu (ham cutlet).

What separates these cutlets from what you’ll find overseas is what they’re breaded with: “panko” breadcrumbs, which don’t absorb as much oil as regular ones, resulting in cutlets with a firmer texture and richer flavor. They are often topped with chopped green cabbage, a tangy sauce, and mustard to create a sandwich that delivers incredibly balanced flavors and textures.

Maisen is a fantastic choice for sampling katsu sando. Their hire katsu sando is reportedly so tender that you can cut the pork cutlet with your chopsticks! With outlets in 17 prefectures, including the dynamic cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, it’s easy to fit it into your travel itinerary.

Tamago Sando

When a culinary giant like Anthony Bourdain raves about tamago sando, you know that you should include this egg salad sandwich on your list of delicacies to eat in Japan. Consisting of a creamy egg filling seasoned with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper and sandwiched between soft and pillowy shokupan, this is one of Japan’s greatest comfort foods. In fact, it ranks as one of the most popular sando flavors according to the aforementioned 2020 LINE study!

With its popularity, you can find tamago sando pretty much everywhere, including Japanese convenience stores and supermarkets. But if you wish to indulge in something a bit different, try the tamago sando at Amanoya. Hailing from Osaka, it features a special Kansai-style egg filling that is sure to leave a lasting impression on your tastebuds. Its store located in Azabujuban, Tokyo is no stranger to long queues.


Ham and Egg Sando

Many countries have their own version of a ham sandwich, and Japan is no different. In Japan, rather than just have the ham on its own, many people prefer to eat it together with egg and some vegetables. Add in the use of fluffy shokupan and you’ve got an incredibly thick and satisfying sandwich! 

While you can get this sando at any convenience store, we recommend taking the trip over to BRIDGE in Ginza, Tokyo. The thickness of the egg in their ham and egg sando is twice what you’ll find elsewhere, making for an incredibly large sandwich. It even needs toothpicks to hold it together! Enjoy the retro atmosphere of this cafe and settle in for a hearty lunch or dinner.

Mix Sando

Have you ever wanted to try several kinds of sandwiches all at once? Mixed sando lets you do exactly that, combining three or four different types of Japanese sando flavors into one fantabulous package.

A charming place to try tasty mixed sando is Coffee Seibu, a quaint cafe established way back in 1964. Conveniently located near JR Shinjuku Station, it’s a quick and easy way to savor mixed sando as well as decor reminiscent of one of Japan’s bygone eras.

Steak Sando

As the name suggests, this is Japan’s version of a steak sandwich. Just imagine a nice, thick steak, or maybe slices of steak, sandwiched between milky sweet shokupan. And unlike a lot of the steak sandwiches you’ll find overseas, there’s often nothing except for maybe a simple sauce or bit of basic seasoning to distract you from the rich flavors of the bread and meat. If that makes you drool, you have to look out for one of these while you’re in Japan.

Since steaks aren’t exactly cheap, it’s a bit harder to find a steak sando in Japan. Your best bet is actually visiting a barbecue or grill restaurant, such as Shima. This place is famous for their beautifully cooked wagyu steaks, so why not have it as a sando? Cut into fine strips and layered, they fill their steak sando so much that the sandwiches look like they’d explode from the sheer amount of meat in them! They are available as takeaway, and making an advance reservation is highly recommended as they’re incredibly popular.

Tuna Sando

Tuna salad sandwiches are just as popular in Japan as overseas. What sets the Japanese version apart is the use of fluffy shokupan and Japanese mayonnaise, which is creamier and sweeter than normal mayonnaise. Add a little salt and pepper, and you’ve got a leveled up tuna sandwich!

Apart from any Japanese convenience store, one easy way to get your fill of Japan’s tuna sando is to check out CENTRE THE BAKERY in Ginza, Tokyo. This bakery is famous for its sandwich bread, which is extremely thick and fluffy. Have it as a sandwich with a variety of fillings at the bakery’s eat-in section - it doesn’t necessarily have to be tuna! But their tuna sando is just as excellent, with plenty of tuna filling, the right amount of onion to add a little kick, and even cucumber for a refreshing taste and satisfyingly crunchy texture.

Teriyaki Chicken Sando

Tender chicken cooked in a sweet and salty soy sauce glaze… yum. In recent years, teriyaki chicken has been gaining popularity abroad for how easy it is to cook and its delicious taste. But have you ever tried it in a sandwich? In Japan, this chicken is often paired together with cabbage or lettuce and even a little Japanese mustard to give it a different flavor profile and help it complement the milky shokupan a little more. You’ll also frequently find it paired with egg salad because the creaminess goes together surprisingly well with the rich umami flavor of the teriyaki chicken!

One of the most classic teriyaki chicken sando can be eaten at Komeda Coffee. Hailing from Nagoya, this chain cafe has made a name for itself and now has outlets all over Japan, including the bustling cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. It features unbelievably thick chicken paired together with Komeda Coffee’s signature sauce and gorgeously toasted shokupan bread. Like most of Komeda Coffee’s dishes, it comes in an extremely generous size, so expect to feel stuffed afterwards.

Potato Salad Sando

What separates the Japanese potato salad from its Western counterparts is the lack of vinegar and sheer variety of other colorful ingredients put into it, such as carrots, corn, and even hard boiled eggs. This results in a potato salad that is incredibly creamy, sweet, and satisfying - a true delight for the taste buds! While it is normally served as a side dish, many Japanese love having it as a filling for sandwiches - hence the potato salad sando - and even in a croquette!

We strongly recommend you try the potato salad sando at American, a cafe in Ginza, Tokyo. Their sandwiches are so popular that they frequently sell out and the bread has to be baked fresh twice a day at a nearby bakery. While the delicious flavor is one big reason for their popularity, the other is because of how voluminous each sandwich is. The bread is shokupan, but sliced far thicker than most, and there’s so much filling that it is normal to see it exploding out of the sandwich! Bring a friend - you’ll probably need them to help you chow down on one whole sandwich!

Embrace the Japanese Sando!

You can find sandwiches all over the world in a wide variety of forms, and they’re all equally delicious in their own right. But while you’re in Japan, why not try the humble yet surprisingly tasty Japanese sando? Some may be very similar to what you’d find back home, but Japan has their own standout sandwich flavors that just may leave you shocked by how good they taste!


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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

Kai Le
Kai Le took part in the Japan Exchange Teaching programme as an Assistant Language Teacher and had the best two years of his life. Even though he has since returned to Singapore, he remains passionate about all things Japanese, not least because he married a capable Japanese lady and has two wonderful bicultural children. Besides writing and Japan, he is passionate about reading, Netflix, and cryptocurrency.
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