Photo/IllutrationShogoin Yatsuhashi Sohonten Co.’s store curtain at its main shop in Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward says it was founded in the second year of the Genroku era (1688-1704). (Takeshiro Tokunaga)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--A bitter war has broken out in the sweets industry here, with one producer of “yatsuhashi” biscuits--one of Kyoto’s most popular souvenirs--suing a rival over its claim it was founded in the 17th century.

In the lawsuit filed at the Kyoto District Court on June 4, Izutsu Yatsuhashi Honpo Co. demands that Shogoin Yatsuhashi Sohonten Co. drop the reference to its establishment in 1689 from signs and displays, denouncing it as “groundless.”

Izutsu, based in Kyoto’s Ukyo Ward, seeks 6 million yen ($54,545) in damages.

Sahee Tsuda, a 94-year-old representative director of Izutsu, said at a news conference on June 4, “We would like Shogoin to drop its claim (that it was established in 1689), as giving inaccurate information has broader implications for the confectionary industry.”

Shogoin said it was “stunned” by the lawsuit.

“We will weigh options of how to respond,” a Shogoin official said.

Izutsu argues in its complaint that it is “highly unlikely” that yatsuhashi cookies, which are made from glutinous rice flour, sugar and cinnamon, existed back then.

Izutsu, which says it was established in 1805, says no documentary evidence has been discovered to prove yatsuhashi had been conceived in those days.

The litigant firm also contends that Shogoin’s claim it was founded in 1689 gives the impression to customers and business partners that the maker has been involved in making yatsuhashi for more than 320 years.

The company also points out that Shogoin, based in Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward, acknowledged that the year it was founded was “unknown” in a document on its pedigree that was provided to other confectionery makers in 1969.

It remains a mystery as to when yatsuhashi were first made or named.

One theory says the cookie, whose shape resembles the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument, was created in memory of Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1685), the maestro credited with establishing koto music in early-modern times.

Another school of thought says the sweets were inspired by a landscape featuring water irises and a bridge in a Buddhist temple in Aichi Prefecture.

Izutsu maintains that Shogoin started using displays highlighting its declared year of founding around 10 years ago.

An industry group of yatsuhashi makers, including Izutsu, took the case to the Kyoto Summary Court in May last year to seek a court-led arbitration, demanding that Shogoin withdraw its displays that the group says are not based on facts.

The arbitration failed, however, and Shogoin argued that the case “did not constitute a civil dispute.”

Izutsu’s sales stood at 2.92 billion yen ($26.55 million) for the year ending in June 2017, while Shogoin’s sales came to 2.38 billion yen for the year through October 2016, according to a private research firm.