A CD Japanese sweet shop is the only one of its kind north of California.

With a name translated as “delicious shop,” it’s hard to go wrong with Umai-do when looking for something to satisfy that sweet tooth. The bakery, located in the Central District, is Seattle’s exclusive Japanese sweets shop.

Umai-do is the brainchild of Art Oki. After a 30-year career in government, Oki spent five years of his retirement devising a business plan, building and opening his wagashi-do, or sweet shop. The establishment is now the only Japanese fresh sweet shop north of the California border.

A native Seattleite, Oki grew up eating sweets and rice crackers at Sagamiya on the corner of 6th and Main Street. Now a beauty parlor, the shop was closed down around the early 1970s. Tired of traveling out of state to get his favorite Japanese sweets, Oki spent “five summers and one winter” learning the basics of the colorful delicacies.

“My favorite is my signature piece called ‘imogashi’ which looks like a mountain potato, but doesn’t have any potato in it,” said Oki. Imogashi can be seen as the Japanese version of the snickerdoodle, with a ball of lima bean paste rolled in cinnamon.

Art Oki, founder of Umai-do, poses with the traditional assortment of Japanese confections his sweet shop offers. Photo credit: CC Yaguchi.
Art Oki, founder of Umai-do, poses with the traditional assortment of Japanese confections his sweet shop offers. Photo credit: CC Yaguchi.

If you aren’t familiar with Japanese desserts, you certainly are in for a unique treat. Since opening in Sept. 2011, Umai-do features about nine items on the menu, including four flavors of mochi-wrapped manju. The chewy confections are made up of sweet rice flour, potato starch and contain a red azuki or lima bean paste inside. A mochi-lover’s heaven, Oki not only offers Hawaiian-inspired flavors like guava and pineapple but also chocolate and peanut butter. The majority of the products are both gluten and dairy-free.

The restaurant balances the traditional desserts with a very casual vibe. The shop typically plays contemporary Japanese, Hawaiian and American tunes. With seating for about 20 people, it is a blend of highly refined sweets with practical design. Coffee, tea and water are available for sit-in customers.

Customers range from local Japanese sweets enthusiasts to those who travel from out of town just to satisfy their palate.

For newbies, a popular choice is usually pink “manju” — a pink mocha with a subtle and not-too-sweet white lima bean paste filling. Umai-do also has two types of pancakes on the menu. The dorayaki, or chrysanthemum pancake, is made up of two pancake-like pastries with red bean paste stuffed in the middle. The matcha dorayaki, or maple leaf pancake, is similar but with a red bean paste.

Creating the desserts is a highly skilled task that requires years of training and much concentration. With textures and bright colors not seen in the typical bakery, the pretty confections can be likened to art.

“It is like the journey of the movie just out ‘Jiro, Dream of Sushi’ but mine would be titled “The Art of Manju” which is my slogan,” said Oki.

Umai-do is located at 1825 South Jackson Street #100, Seattle, WA 98144. It’s open Wed – Sat from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

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