Meet the dog that runs a sweet potato stand in Japan

Meet Ken-kun, the manager of Inu no Yakiimoyasan, or “Dog’s Roasted Sweet Potato Stand.” Located in a small neighborhood in Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan, Ken-kun eagerly waits to assist hungry customers. Despite the popularity of cute things in Japan, this is the only well-known food stand to be managed entirely by a dog.

Ken-kun has become one of Japan's most famous food stand vendors © Tiffany Lukk / Lonely Planet

After a friend told me that Ken-kun lived in a city close to where we were staying, a small group of us hopped in a car and drove straight towards this unusual street food stand. We found the neighborhood, parked and walked until we stumbled across a food stand, but no dog.

We’d come all this way and it seemed like Ken-kun was out for a break. Then, two paws plopped on the counter. Attached to the paws was the most enthusiastic cashier we had ever seen. He sniffed us and let us pet him to our hearts’ content. Distracted by the employee’s charisma, we almost forgot that we came here for sweet potatoes as well.

The view above Odori Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido © Prasit photo / Getty Images

Ken-kun relies on the honor system

The fact that a shiba inu is the face of the store isn’t the only unique thing we noticed. Ken-kun’s lack of language ability, math skills and opposable thumbs changes some of the expectations of how a food stand is run. Ken-kun uses the honor system, for example.

Ken-kun can’t tell when someone doesn’t pay, and his owner isn’t there for every part of the shift. Because of that, it’s up to the customer to be honest when they pay. However, Ken-kun does like to stand close to the sweet potato box and money stand when customers approach them. I imagine it’d make it a bit more difficult for someone to feel okay taking a sweet potato at a fiver finger discount.

How to order

The most popular item on the menu is the roasted sweet potato (until recently, it was the only thing on the menu). Just outside the stand lies a box filled with freshly roasted sweet potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil. Customers can pick out the potato they want and insert 200 yen (less than $2) into the change slot on the side of the stand. Next to the slot there’s a sign that reads, “Because I’m a dog, I can’t make change.” If you happen to not have any 100-yen coins, that’s okay as the potato stand also accepts donations.

Ken-kun first gained notoriety in March, when his photo appeared on Twitter © Tiffany Lukk / Lonely Planet

Ken-kun's working conditions are quite cozy. Inside Ken-kun’s stand is a space heater for when it gets chilly, and right outside is a fan for the warmer summer days. Ken-kun’s owner comes to check on him from time to time, and takes him on walks after his shift ends. Additionally, Ken-kun appears happy and eager to help whenever customers approach. Many times if he hears voices, he jumps up to put his paws on his stand and is ready to take orders, or to recieve pats.

Ken-kun’s response to fame

Inu no Yakiimoyasan became popular after photos of Ken-kun appeared on Twitter in March. Thousands retweeted his photo, and people started coming to the store every day. 

In response, Ken-kun and his owner added a few changes to the food stand. Prices increased slightly, but so did the menu. Not only does Ken-kun sell roasted sweet potatoes, he now sells roasted corn and t-shirts printed with a cartoon picture of Ken-kun and the name of the stand.

Ken-kun can't make change, but he takes donations. And pets © Tiffany Lukk / Lonely Planet

How to get to Ken-kun's store

Finding Ken-kun’s store isn’t easy. The best way to get there is by car, and there’s street parking along the neighborhood streets nearby. If you don’t have plans to rent a car, taking the bus is also an option. You can get on a bus from Sapporo Station Eki Mae bound for Kiyota 2 Jo 1-chome, the bus stop right outside the stand. It takes about 45 minutes. Because it’s a residential area, it’s important to be quiet and respectful of the neighbors.

Once in a while Inu no Yakiimoyasan runs out of sweet potatoes. If that happens, Ken-kun’s owner will put out a sign saying that they’re sold out. It’s important to get there early if you want to make sure you get a sweet potato. The day I went, they were sadly sold out, but Ken-kun’s owner came out and chatted with us, apologized for the lack of potatoes, and gave us an ear of roasted corn for free. 

Ken-kun and his roasted sweet potatoes can be found at 1-chome-15-11 Kiyota 2 Jo Kiyota-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido. His store is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

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