Hokkaido's top-seller: Shiroi Koibito

We talked to Hajime Ishimizu, the president of Ishiya Co., Ltd., about Shiroi Koibito, the most famous souvenir made in Hokkaido and one that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. In this article we will also discuss the beginnings of this universally known product.
Words by Yukitaka Ida
Photographs by Michio Kurose

The company president talks about Shiroi Koibito

Hajime Ishimizu, the president of Ishiya Co., Ltd.

Hajime Ishimizu, the president of Ishiya Co., Ltd.

――What does Shiroi Koibito mean to Ishiya Co., Ltd.?
Mr. Ishimizu: It is always central to us. Shiroi Koibito represents 80 percent of our sales. It is a product that was nurtured by the founder and second generation of corporate leadership, so it is also a rival product we would like to surpass someday.

――What was the biggest factor in its immense growth?
Mr. Ishimizu: Shiroi Koibito was a perfect gift and souvenir. It has all the right qualities. It has a name and taste that bring to mind Hokkaido, it's easy to eat, it's a good size, it's easy to hand out, it lasts a long time without spoiling and it is reasonably priced.

Shiroi Koibito Factory

Shiroi Koibito Factory

――Why is it only sold within Hokkaido prefecture?
Mr. Ishimizu: It's fun to buy a gift for someone when you're on a trip. You think about that person as you choose the right item. If you went to the trouble of buying a gift for someone while on a trip and then the same thing were available where they lived, it would be a pity. From the perspectives of marketability and the meaning of its existence, it is important not to sell it outside of Hokkaido.

(Illustration courtesy of ISHIYA)

(Illustration courtesy of ISHIYA)

――What about meeting the needs of foreign travelers to Hokkaido?
Mr. Ishimizu: Roughly half of Shiroi Koibito Park's visitors are from overseas. There is also the matter of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and a possible future Winter Olympics in Sapporo. For overseas visitors, Shiroi Koibito is not a Hokkaido souvenir, it's a Japanese souvenir. We will work to please foreign visitors, including those attending the Games.

Shiroi Koibito Park

Shiroi Koibito Park

Shiroi Koibito trivia

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Product development

Ishiya Co., Ltd., was established in 1947. The company got its start making hard candy and other Western sweets, but when they became readily available everywhere, sales began to decline. When the founder and the second generation of corporate leadership were considering developing new sweets, they discovered that white chocolate and cookies are delicious together. Shiroi Koibito was born at that moment.

The name

The product was nearing completion, but it still didn't have a name. It was decided one December when the founder returned home and said from the vestibule of his house, "The white lovers are falling." I wonder if the documentary film on the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, entitled "13 jours en France" (Japanese title "Shiroi koibito-tachi," meaning “white lovers”) made him think of that. It was truly a fateful utterance.

The mountain on the package

This is Mount Rishiri on Rishiri Island.

Mount Rishiri (Photo courtesy of ISHIYA)

Mount Rishiri (Photo courtesy of ISHIYA)

Another way to eat it

Asked the best way to eat Shiroi Koibito, one full-time, regular employee of Ishiya Co., Ltd. said, "I like to eat them frozen."

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