The Yaki-Imo Man of Japan

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 23 Comments |

At first a faint wail carried by a distant wind, slowly growing louder and louder into a caterwauling song. As the leaves turn yellow and red and the temperature drops, Japan’s 100 year-old Ishi Yaki-Imo Man comes out to play. Video below.

I’ve been hearing his song for a few weeks now. It always comes after dark, when the streetlights burn their deep orange colour and the children have deserted the roads. Like a ghostly plea carried on the wind….

♪♪ Ishii ya-kimo, yaki-imo, yaki-imo ♪♪

(♪♪ Stone-baked sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, baked potatoes ♪♪)

yaki-imo

Source: Belluna Foods

Yes… He comes, and he goes, leaving only a trail of roasted potato smell, taunting me night after night. I am always in a compromising position; never on my toes and quick enough to catch him before he drives off.

But tonight… Tonight I heard his wailing as I cycled home from Aeon. The cars roaring past on the road beside me couldn’t disguise it. Oh no! It was him alright. Tonight, Yaki-Imo Man, we duel.

yaki-imo3

Source: Ishi-yaki

Making a sharp turn and shooting across the road while I had an opening, I pricked up my ears. He was nearby. I scooted down a side-road, past a few night-walkers and turned into another avenue. The music was close now. I could distinctly make out his seductive melody…

♪♪ Ishii ya-kimo, yaki-imo, yaki-imo ♪♪
♪♪ Yakitate no atsu atsu ♪♪
(♪♪ Stone-baked sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, baked potatoes ♪♪)
(♪♪ Freshly baked and piping hot ♪♪)

yaki-imo4

Source: Yummyseaweed

I trundled closer, and the van came into sight. Fumbling with my camera, I tailed him for a while until he came to a stop. For a moment I thought he had gotten the better of me…

“You’re packing up for the night now?!”
“Just when I finally caught you! You can’t! No!”

His song quietened into a gentle lull as he fumbled about with the hefty stove stored in the back of the van…

♪♪ …yaki-imo, yaki-imo… ♪♪

Just as I was about to give up in despair, the boot slammed shut and he hopped back into the car. The piercing wail blared out once again and he was on his way. But I was ready, camera poised to shoot video as the van moved towards me.

And then the unthinkable happened… He called out to me. Here’s the video of what happened:

It turns out that the Yaki-Imo Man isn’t a soul-sucking blood demon after all, but a friendly neighbourhood ghoul who has haunted the streets of Japan for well over 100 years, originally with two-wheeled hand-pulled trolleys:

yaki-imo-man

The combination of a lit stove so near a tank full of petrol may instil fear into the hearts of some, but the Yaki-Imo Man knows how to handle his baby. They are all over Japan, scooting here and there in their little trucks when the weather turns cold. The songs appear to vary as well, as you can see by looking at some of the related videos on Youtube.

Yaki-imo men (and yaki-imo women, too!) can be found selling their hot, roasted snacks in all manner of places around Japan. I have one fond memory buying a humongous baked potato from Ueno-park in Tokyo and nearly choking myself to death while trying to consume all of its mighty starchiness. They are pretty cheap eats, and really do fill you up, so if you spot a seller on your travels, do help them keep up their business and buy a spud or two. Who knows, maybe you yourself will come home with some tales from the yaki-imo man!

The Ishi Yaki-Imo Man Song of Okazaki


石焼き芋、焼き芋、焼き芋 Ishii ya-kimo, yaki-imo, yaki-imo.
石焼き芋、焼き芋、焼き芋 Ishii ya-kimo, yaki-imo, yaki-imo.
石で焼いた焼き芋 Ishi de yaita yaki-imoooo.
一本100円と300円だよ Ippon 100 yen to 300 yen da yooo.
とても大きいのが400円だよ Totemo ookii no ga 400 yen da yooo.

石焼き芋、焼き芋、焼き芋 Ishii ya-kimo, yaki-imo, yaki-imo.
焼きたての熱々 Yakitate no atsu atsu.
石焼き芋、焼き芋、焼き芋 Ishii ya-kimo, yaki-imo, yaki-imo.
早く来ないと行っちゃうよ Hayaku konai to icchau yo

Stone-baked sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, baked potatoes
Stone-baked sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, baked potatoes
Sweet potatoes baked on hot stone
One for 100 yen or 300 yen
A really big one for 400 yen

Stone-baked sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, baked potatoes
Freshly baked and piping hot
Stone-baked sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, baked potatoes
Come quick or you’ll miss me!

**********

Oh and hamsters seem to like yaki-imo too. Check out this dastardly little specimen ^_^:

hamster-yaki-imo

Source: Karako86

23 comments on “The Yaki-Imo Man of Japan
  1. Ken_Works says:

    The expression “piping hot – 熱々” is interesting. I wonder why it's expressed with a word “piping”…Anyway, you really wear Gakuran^^

  2. Ken_Works says:

    The expression “piping hot – 熱々” is interesting. I wonder why it's expressed with a word “piping”…Anyway, you really wear Gakuran^^

  3. Ken_Works says:

    The expression “piping hot – 熱々” is interesting. I wonder why it's expressed with a word “piping”…Anyway, you really wear Gakuran^^

  4. sarah says:

    Ahaaaa. the first time i heard the potato men up here in Sapporo, they sounded like a Muslim call to meditation. i was confused :p

  5. sarah says:

    Ahaaaa. the first time i heard the potato men up here in Sapporo, they sounded like a Muslim call to meditation. i was confused :p

  6. WC says:

    The purple ones freak me out. Are you sure they aren’t radioactive or something? :D

    Good video… Since I can’t really visit, I love seeing videos like these… And even if I did visit, I wouldn’t see all the little things that locals see, I’d be stuck in tourist-ville.

    • Mike says:

      Not sure what the difference is between the coloured potatoes… Maybe just varying types? Glad you feel you are getting to know some of the lesser-known parts of Japanese culture ^^

  7. WC says:

    The purple ones freak me out. Are you sure they aren’t radioactive or something? :D

    Good video… Since I can’t really visit, I love seeing videos like these… And even if I did visit, I wouldn’t see all the little things that locals see, I’d be stuck in tourist-ville.

    • Mike says:

      Not sure what the difference is between the coloured potatoes… Maybe just varying types? Glad you feel you are getting to know some of the lesser-known parts of Japanese culture ^^

  8. darg says:

    Ha- one of those guys rolls by in his little kei-truck at like 10-11am on Saturday mornings and wakes me up sometimes… in a park or something is fine, but it can be slightly irritating if you’re trying to sleep in!

  9. darg says:

    Ha- one of those guys rolls by in his little kei-truck at like 10-11am on Saturday mornings and wakes me up sometimes… in a park or something is fine, but it can be slightly irritating if you’re trying to sleep in!

  10. Katie says:

    Oh man, I’d take those delicious things over roasted chestnuts any day. I wonder if that song has a Pavlovian effect on the Japanese?

    • Mike says:

      Had to think there for a while ^^; – Pavlov’s dogs and such. Would be an interesting experiment to carry out with Japanese people and the yaki-imo man!

  11. Katie says:

    Oh man, I’d take those delicious things over roasted chestnuts any day. I wonder if that song has a Pavlovian effect on the Japanese?

    • Mike says:

      Had to think there for a while ^^; – Pavlov’s dogs and such. Would be an interesting experiment to carry out with Japanese people and the yaki-imo man!

  12. 2nihon says:

    Delightful! I almost expected him to add ‘oh by the way, I’m also running for office, please vote for me’. :)

    We have a few push-cart vendors selling ice cream in the more-Hispanic sections of town, but I’ve never heard them sing. Perhaps I should buy an ice cream and ask them to sing for me…might be fun!

  13. 2nihon says:

    Delightful! I almost expected him to add ‘oh by the way, I’m also running for office, please vote for me’. :)

    We have a few push-cart vendors selling ice cream in the more-Hispanic sections of town, but I’ve never heard them sing. Perhaps I should buy an ice cream and ask them to sing for me…might be fun!

    • Mike says:

      Dooo it! Haha ;)

    • Moon says:

      When I lived near Chicago and in Rockford I never heard the Mexicans selling ice cream, tamales or elotes sing but an elote man asked me to sing something in Swedish.  I said I didn’t know Swedish but I can sing something in German, so I sang “Mein Vater war ein Wandersmann” and got a free elote with all the trimmings I wanted! 

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