Japanese snacks

Exploring Japanese snacks: a journey through traditional and modern treats

by: Hideo Takahashi

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Time to read 10 min

Japan confectionery manufacturers not only continue to create traditional treats, but they also actively include foreign culinary habits. In addition, they often release new products according to the season and collaborate with other brands: join us to discover some of the most popular snacks from Japan!

Why Japanese snacks are that popular

Nowadays, Japanese snacks are loved by people from all over the world. It may be natural to think that treats prepared in such a country famous for its gastronomy must be delicious, but the reason for their popularity seems to be not only their taste but also their unique culture and national character of Japan.

In Japan, people of all ages, from children to elders, enjoy eating snacks; it is no exaggeration to say that the number of treat variations this country offers is the largest in the world. In addition, the elaborateness of the packaging and the large accessibility to Japanese snacks easily catch everyone's attention.

The Cultural Significance of Snacks in Japan

Japanese people have been enjoying sweets since ancient times. Honey and sugar were already used in the VIII Century, and by the Edo period (1603-1868), even children could have treats daily. Although the expensive white sugar was only accessible to aristocrats, candies made with simple ingredients were already being produced by that time, and common people would have less expensive alternatives such as starch syrup and millet.

Then, in the Meiji era (1868-1912), the still famous confectionery manufacturers "Morinaga Seika" and "Fujiya" were funded, and snacks of all kinds became increasingly popular among Japanese citizens. Today, traditional treats coexist with many Western products, such as chocolate and chips, and we can admire how Japan respects its culture just as much as it respects foreign ones, by incorporating and integrating them.

The Global Popularity of Japanese Snacks

Japanese snacks are trendy nowadays for their original ingredients and unique flavors. In addition, recently, young generations, especially celebrities, have been actively sharing their favorite treats on social media, and the number of foreign tourists that come every day to Japan to try its unique tastes is constantly increasing.

Traditional Japanese Snacks


Let's now take a look at some of the traditional snacks Japan has to offer.


Rice Crackers (Senbei): The Staple Japanese Snack

Senbei is undoubtedly the most famous traditional Japanese snack in the world. Also called "rice crackers" are made by baking a mix of water, seasoning, and some flour.

Japanese rice crackers

History and varieties of Senbei

There are various legends about the origin of senbei, the famous Japanese rice crackers: some say that they were first prepared by the monk Kukai from China, while another story considers the disciples of the tea master Sen Rikyu to be the inventors of these delicious treats.

Grilling and eating dumpling-shaped mochi was already famous during the Yayoi period (300 BC - 250 AD), but it was only in the XV Century that they began to be eaten as a snack. It it seems that many rice crackers were born in the Edo period (1603-1868) when ancient Japanese people used to knead wheat flour with sugar and bake it; soy sauce was not included in the recipe since it started to spread after 1645.

Because there is not an "official" shape, thickness, or flavor of senbei, nowadays we have hundreds of variations, in addition to traditional seasonings such as soy sauce, miso, and shichimi (a Japanese spice mixture), innovative tastes including cheese and chocolate, are constantly being today.

Regional specialties and flavors

Many regional varieties of rice crackers are sold all over Japan and have become popular souvenirs. Some examples include the Hachinohe senbei from Aomori (in the Tohoku region), which is made with wheat flour, the carbonated senmochi from the Hyogo Prefecture, the glutinous rice crackers from Kansai, and the Western style flour rice crackers from Kyushu.

Dried Squid: A Taste of the Sea

"Surume" is a Japanese term that refers to "squid torn apart, gutted, and dried."

In the past, it was made by exposing fresh squids to the sun, but nowadays, it is often dried by machines. Surume is famous mostly in Shizuoka and Hakodate, but Hokkaido is one of Japan's top producers of seaweed.

Dried Squid

Preparation and cultural context

Making snacks from fish and squids may be a unique habit of Japan, an archipelago; therefore, seafood is deeply involved in its culinary culture. Surume has existed since ancient times and has already appeared in the literature of the Heian period (794-1185): at that time, dried squid was only accessible to people of high status. It also used to be delivered to the gods at festivals, and even now, perhaps because of its remnants, it is considered a lucky charm in Japan and is also used for gift packaging.

Popular ways to enjoy dried squid in Japan

Surname is usually eaten broiled. It is recommended to grill the squid from the belly side over low heat so that it is not overcooked; if it gets too hard, you can also soften it with a hammer.

Dried squid can be enjoyed with different seasonings such as mayonnaise, soy sauce, chili peppers, etc., and is served with sake.

Kaki no Tane: The Spicy Staple of Japanese Snacking

"Kaki no tane" literally means "persimmon seeds", because of their small, oblong shape and dark orange color. These treats are made with glutinous rice and are usually seasoned with soy sauce and chili peppers that taste pungent.

Cultural Resonance and Social Enjoyment


Kaki no tane and peanuts are widely known in Japan and are often bought as

souvenirs. They were first introduced by "Nanihanaya Confectionery" in Niigata Prefecture

and have rapidly become a nationwide popular snack that is sold in every

supermarket and snack store.

The story of how they were first produced is pretty interesting: it seems that the original

maker was trying to make thinly sliced rice cakes in a small form, but he accidentally

trampled on it, and, since it was quite expensive, he decided to keep making snacks with it

even though it was deformed. When his confectionery company sold them, their unique

the shape was unexpectedly really appreciated!

Kaki no tane is enjoyed both by children and by adults, who like to have them together with

beer or sake: a lot of izakaya (Japanese bars serving alcoholic drinks) offer them to their

customers!


Kaki no Tane

Variety and Flavor Profile

Kaki no tane has become an indispensable part of Japanese snacks: nowadays, many confectionery manufacturers sell their original variations, and you can enjoy a wide variety of them. Popular flavors include traditional seasonings such as wasabi and plum, but you can also find cheese, seafood, and chocolate!

Modern and Popular Snacks in Japan

Let's now explore some modern treats inspired by Western snacks: we bet you have already heard of them!

Pocky: The Iconic Japanese Treat

Pocky, the world's most famous Japanese modern snack, is a long-selling product released by "Ezaki Glico" in 1966. Also called "Peppero" or "Mikado" in foreign countries, Guinness World Records have recognized it as "the world's best-selling chocolate- coated biscuit brand".

Pocky

Grico Brand site via Ezaki Glico Pocky

Variety of flavors

Pocky has many variations, including chocolate, strawberries, almonds, and matcha taste.

Recently, a new product, "Happy Blueberry Flavor", has been released, and it has rapidly become a hot topic because of the particular mix between the sweetness of the chocolate and the sour taste of blueberries.

In addition to the many flavors, the "ultra-thin" Pocky are also very popular: their thickness is about ½ of the original ones, and thanks to it, you can appreciate even more the chocolate coating.

Special editions

Special flavors are also sold seasonally. In particular, the "冬のくちどけ" (that can be translated as "Winter melt") sold in Winter is very popular for its luxurious taste: the chocolate coating has a unique melting texture and is covered with cocoa powder. There is also a Winter-only "salted caramel" flavor.

In addition, "local Pocky" that use local specialties are also largely appreciated. Some examples include "mandarin oranges from the Seto Inland Sea", "amaou strawberries from the Kyushu region", and "sweet potatoes from the Hokuriku region".

KitKat: Japan's Innovative Variations

KitKat is a confectionery produced by Nestlé in the UK. It consists of elongated wafers coated with chocolate. In Japan, it was released in 1973 by "Fujiya", which partnered with the British company "Rowntree Mackintosh Confectionery".

Variety of flavors

In addition to the classical chocolate flavor, Japanese stores have been selling various products limited to different seasons and regions, such as white chocolate, matcha, hojicha (roasted green tea), wasabi, zunda (green soybean), strawberry, yogurt, melon, mango, passion fruit, bananas, etc.

Special editions

KitKat is often bought as a gift to a special one for seasonal celebrations such as Christmas and Easter.

The "KitKat Heartful Bear", which has recently become a hot topic, is an example of a season-limited edition: it consists of a bear-shaped chocolate wafer, and when it was first sold during Valentine's season, it was so popular that it was almost immediately sold out!

In November 2010, the "KitKat Shinkansen Nozomi-go", which was released exclusively at station kiosks operated by "Tokai Kiosks", became famous because its package imitated the N700 series of the shinkansen.

In addition, KitKat regularly sells limited-time collaboration products with other Japanese confectionery manufacturers, such as "Sugar Butter Tree" and "Tokyo Banana".

Kitkat Heartful bear

Heartful bear via Nestle 

JagaRico: The Savory Potato Stick Craze

JagaRico is a snack made from potatoes that has been manufactured and sold by "Calbee" since 1995, with the concept of "treats that high schoolers can carry in their bags". They consist of french fries-like salty sticks in a cup-shaped box and are characterized by their unique crunchy and crispy texture.

Variety of flavors

While JagaRico originally had only salad and cheese flavors, nowadays, there are about 10 variations include butter, nori seaweed flavor, salt and lemon, and plum taste.

In addition, every year, there are several hundred types of limited seasonal products! They include miso butter and corn, honey and corn, and even ginger-grilled pork.

Special editions

If you go to the special "Calbee Plus" shop, you can buy the special "Poteriko salad", a hot snack that recalls the moist texture of potatoes. There are six "Calbee Plus" stores, and out of these, only the one on Okinawa Kokusai Street sells "Sweet Poteriko", made from sweet potatoes.

Another special edition is "JagaRico Thin Version", a product released nationwide in September 2023; it has thinner sticks that allow you to enjoy a lighter texture.

Jagarico "Poteriko salad"

Food Menu"Poteriko Salad",via Calbee Plus

Accessing Japanese Snacks Globally

Japanese Snacks Online: A World of Flavors at Your Fingertips

Buying Japanese snacks online might sound difficult, but don't worry! Here, there is a short guide about how to get the best products in the easiest ways.

Popular platforms for purchasing Japanese snacks

Numerous online stores provide an extensive array of confectioneries and facilitate direct delivery to your home: some popular websites include Amazon and Rakuten, but there are also, some specialized retailers such as JAPANBITE will help you discover the less known yet delicious bites from all over Japan!

Tips in buying Japanese snacks online

Before buying snacks online, we recommend you do these three things:

• Read reviews and ratings from other customers to know more about the service of the store and the quality of its products.

• Compare prices and shipping fees between similar platforms to avoid excessive fees

• Ensure secure payment methods to avoid scams.

If you would like to know more about how to buy Japanese sweets online, you can check out this page for further information.

Japanese Snack Stores Around the World

Where to find Japanese snacks outside Japan

Japanese snacks are getting more and more popular around the world: treats such as Pocky are nowadays sold in many countries, but of course, most Japanese products cannot be found easily overseas. If you want something different from what you saw at your local you can try to visit an Asian store to see if they have it.

Tips for buying Japanese snacks outside Japan

While buying Japanese snacks in a foreign country, you should always check the origin: was the product you want to buy made in Japan, or at least, did a Japanese produce it brand?

Also, doing some research to see if it is not excessively expensive would be a good idea: You might find the same treat at a cheaper price online!

Learn more about Japanese snacks in JAPANBITE

If you are interested in learning more about Japanese snacks, we recommend some other articles:

• If you are considering buying our JAPANBITE box: How sweets and snacks in the JAPANBITE boxes are high-quality?

• If you are wondering why Japanese treats have such high costs, Why Japanese sweets are so expensive

• If you are curious about Japanese candies and other sweets, Learn More about Japanese Candy & Sweets

• If you want to know more about Japanese traditional confectionery, Exploring the World of Dango: From Meaning to Recipe

Author Bio

Hideo Takahashi

Hideo Takahashi

Born in Tokyo in 1990. Founder of JAPANBITE and CEO of its operating company, GRID Start, Ltd.
Established the company in 2023 after being a consultant of IT infrastructure.
Inspired by his travels to 15 countries and a deep love for Japanese food, he launched a service to contribute to small local Japanese manufacturers' businesses and allow many foreigners to enjoy Japanese culture.

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