Mushrooms, koalas, star-fish and whales … “kawaii” (cute) Japanese snacks
Chocolate crackers that look like mushrooms, but the caps are made of chocolate and the stems are crackers. A package with a picture of a cute whale with a sailor hat, filled with snacks shaped like various sea creatures, including squids, shrimp, starfishes and octopuses.
These “Kinoko no Yama” (Meiji – suggested retail price: 210 yen) and “OTOTO” (Morinaga – suggested retail price: 138 yen [incl. tax]) snacks are very commonly sold in supermarkets or convenience stores across Japan. In Japan, where various major and small makers intensely compete, even everyday snacks that sell for around 150 yen per package are loaded with various ideas. In addition to the best seasonings that are not too sweet or too salty, they come in a variety of textures and cute appearances. Detailed backgrounds or profiles are often invented for characters that appear on packages, and some of them, such as “Kyoro-chan” for “Chocoball” (Morinaga – suggested retail price: 74 yen [incl. tax]), have become stuffed animals.
Some of these “everyday Japanese snacks” filled with various charming features, like “Koala’s March” (Lotte – market price: around 105 yen) with over 450 fun shapes in which Koalas play instruments or sports or “Hi-Chew” (Morinaga – suggested retail price: 105 yen [incl. tax]), which is a soft candy with an interesting chewing texture, are sold in other countries and have become popular.
Creating more fun and delicious snacks through diligent improvement and unique gimmicks
Diligent improvements, made after carefully listening to the requests of consumers, are helping improve the taste of snacks. Consider the example of “Happy Turn”, a snack containing two bite-sized rice crackers flavored with a powder that mixes a sweet taste with a savory amino-acid based taste. The secret of the popularity of this product is its perfectly-balanced flavor. The maker of this product, Kameda Seika, started selling “Powder 250% Happy Turn”, in which the amount of powder is increased (market price: around 105 yen), in response to consumers informing them that they wanted to enjoy more of the powder’s flavor. Needless to say, sales increased rapidly.
Elements such as surprise and fun are also important. For example, there are several types of snacks that come in packets in which a few pieces appear the same as the other pieces but are super spicy, much like Russian roulette. These are popular since they bring additional excitement to small gatherings with friends.
Moreover, there are toy-like snacks that you can complete by mixing the ingredients or forming them into shapes. For example, “Neru Neru Neru Ne” (Kracie – suggested retail price: 105 yen) is an interesting snack that changes color and swells up when the flavored powder is mixed with water. “Popin’ Cookin’ Tanoshii Osushiyasan” (Kracie – suggested retail price: 262 yen) is a snack that allows you to make sushi-shaped confectionaries by mixing soft candy and water, and it makes a pleasant souvenir from a trip to Japan.
There is an abundance of products, and many are only sold for a limited period of time. If you would like to enjoy a sense of a particular season, chocolate confectionaries are a good choice; in addition to a variety of flavors, such as chestnut, which is limited to autumn, or strawberry, which is limited to spring, products with encouraging messages appear during the entrance exam season, which lasts from January to early March each year. These snacks entertain us throughout the year with their unique ideas.
“Limited edition” local specialty snacks, which are also popular as souvenirs
There is a variety of “limited edition” snacks with flavors of local specialties. “Hi-Chew”, mentioned above, has limited-edition specialty fruit flavors, including Yubari melon, which is limited to Hokkaido, cherry, limited to the Tohoku area, and pineapple, limited to Okinawa. There are also many snacks that reproduce flavors of specialty dishes; for example, Osaka’s specialty, “Takoyaki” (a ball-shaped snack the size of a ping-pong ball, made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a pan, having a filling containing octopus and other ingredients), appears as a snack in various forms from many makers. These local specialty snacks are often sold in local airports, major train stations, rest stop areas on highways and supermarkets, and they give consumers the sense of having something a little special. For this reason, they are popular as nifty, casual gifts for very close friends among Japanese people.
When you travel to Japan, stop by local supermarkets or other stores; you might be able to find cute, tasty, reasonable and fun “everyday snacks” that are also perfect as casual souvenirs.
“Okashi no Machioka”, a store specializing in snacks
“Okashi no Machioka” is a store that specializes in snacks, and it is filled with around 1,000 varieties of snacks, chocolates and candies. Since the opening of the first store in 1997, over 150 stores have been opened, centered in Tokyo. If you find one of the stores, please have a look inside.