Keep your friends close and your snacks closer. “~ Unknown.
Wondering what are the must-have snacks from Japan? With so many to choose from, it can be a little overwhelming to decide which ones to make in your suitcase! Do not be afraid of my Japanese snack finder, I LOVE bringing souvenirs from Japan home – finding out the cultural and historical reasons for their popularity is half the fun.
After visiting this amazing country several times (and sharing my personal itineraries on my Japan travel blog), I am proud to have tried my fair share of Japanese snacks over the years. I always find new and exciting snacks to devour, so I decided to put this guide together to make the selection process easier for you.
History and tradition are still interwoven with everyday life, so many of these Japanese snacks have fascinating stories behind them. And as an invisible tourist, I want to know what they are! This interesting feature makes it all the more meaningful as soon as you get your hands on it – and I’ll let you know where.
Don’t worry if you don’t come to Japan soon. I will cover you here as I will also tell you how to bring Japanese snacks to you. If you want to learn the meaning of these goodies to enjoy them more, read on!
This Japanese snack guide covers:
This post contains some affiliate links that do not incur any additional costs for you. I can earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
POPULAR JAPANESE SNAKE
Japan is known for its experiments with crazy snack combinations. I therefore recommend that you move outside your comfort zone and try it. Why not? Let’s start!
Is it a real guide to snacks from Japan if the world-famous Japanese Kit Kats are not mentioned? These are particularly unique Japanese souvenirs because you will find the quirky and sometimes eyebrow-inducing flavors that you won’t find anywhere else. All I can say is that the department that comes up with these quirky tastes is very imaginative!
Japanese kit cats have come a long way since they were first introduced to the country from the United States in the 1970s. Today, different regions in Japan have their own specialties to promote local flavors. There are over 300! My personal favorite of all times is Shinshu apple from Nagano. I could honestly eat them all day. Keep an eye out as you explore Japan for these off-the-beaten-path special editions.
Kit Kat does a great job of incorporating traditional Japanese flavors like red beans, Japanese sake, matcha, and even wasabi into these treats. Kit kats with a sweet taste include strawberry cheesecake, cookies and cream, mint and of course Sakura (Cherry Blossom). Hearty flavors include chestnuts, roasted soybeans, and sweet potatoes, though there are many others. Limited editions like Tokyo Banana (below) and Tiramisu are also very much in demand!
TIP: Before you open your Kit Kat from its shiny shell, take a second to prepare to enjoy the aroma. Regular kit cats that you have at home do NOT prepare you for the amazing scent when you open Japanese kit cats!
Did you know? Kit Kats make popular gifts to wish students good luck before the exams in Japan. Every year in January (exam period), Nestlé noticed an increase in Kit Kats sales. It turned out that Kit Kat sounds like the expression “Kitto-Katsu” in Japanese. In translation, this means “win safely”, so customers wanted to pass this happiness on to their loved ones!
Another of the best Japanese snacks is Tokyo Banana. As the name suggests, these fluffy, banana-shaped sponge cakes filled with delicious pudding cream have only been available in the Tokyo region since 1991. They are considered Japanese sweets as such Wagashi (more on this further down on the page).
Since Japan is steeped in tradition – especially gifts – it is perfect because of its elegant packaging omiyage (gifted souvenir) to bring home from Tokyo for your loved ones. Just like Kit Kats, Tokyo Banana is also available in different limited edition flavors and designs, so you can choose one that matches the personality of the lucky recipient you give it to.
TIP: Tokyo Banana have a short expiration, typically around a week. Without realizing it, I ate it a few days after it expired and it still tasted good, but it’s good to consider if you give it to someone else.
Have you seen the famous Glico Man billboard in Osaka? The company behind it, Glico, has been producing many types of Japanese snacks since 1922. Though their factories were destroyed across the country in World War II, Glico returned stronger than ever and today favorites like Pocky and Pretz are instantly recognizable around the world.
As mentioned above, the most well-known biscuit sticks are Pocky and Pretz. Pocky are delicious, chocolate-covered biscuit sticks in a variety of flavors such as cookies and cream, green tea, strawberry, and chocolate banana. I even saw purple sweet potatoes.
Pretz are similar, but flavored with hearty aromas. Its crispy texture reminds me of Italian breadsticks that are served in a Mediterranean restaurant before eating, especially those with a tomato flavor – they are my personal contact!
While there are innumerable types of cookies to look through when considering the snacks from Japan to buy, Meijis Hello Panda and Lotte Koalas should also do the cut. These bite-sized shortbread pillows are filled with creamy chocolate or strawberry and are ideal as small gifts for children. I tried it too Kinosei Cookies (snack with a health benefit ranging from collagen boosting to aiding digestion). However, they weren’t that great!
Potato chips & hearty puffs
Some of my favorite Japanese snacks are the seemingly ordinary potato chips. Since we are talking about Japan, I promise that there is nothing ordinary about them! I am sure that you will also see a trend here. The flavor combinations go so well together.
I dare you to try some of the fantastic flavor combinations of Japanese potato chips – some are even covered with chocolate. Seriously! The crispness of the crinkle-cut chips contrasts well with creamy chocolate. This is definitely a pleasant surprise. What I like most about Japanese potato chips is that they are not oily or greasy compared to Western snacks. I’ve eaten a whole bag before because it’s much lighter on your stomach!
Since 1949, Calbee has established itself as a popular brand for potato chips and hearty puffs. You can’t go wrong if you buy a few bags of their products. You can find traditional flavors like nori (Seaweed), um (Plum blossom), soy sauce and wasabi for more mainstream flavors like pizza, honey butter, vegetables, sweet potatoes and even curry. I also really appreciate snow pea chips, they resemble Pringles and are very grumpy.
Of course, Kit Kats fall into this category, but I felt that they deserve their own area! No guide to Japanese snacks would be complete without mentioning the delicious quality chocolates available across the country. For me, the richer taste of Japanese chocolate is preferable to Western brands such as Cadbury and Nestlé’s classic chocolate bars.
Meiji is one of the most popular Chocolate brands You will find in Japan. I love stowing them in my purse to eat bite-sized pieces all day long as I explore them. The parts are individually packed so you can easily stay with one (right?). Almonds covered with meiji chocolate or macadamia nuts are also absolutely delicious.
Lotte’s Crunky is also one of my favorites, much like a Nestlé Crunch Bar. Crispy rice chips and creamy chocolate blend into this delicious masterpiece. The Fujiya brand has an amazing little creation filled with vanilla cream called Milky, the distinctive comic face of a girl named Peko-chan adorns the red packaging. You can’t go wrong with chocolate from the popular brands Bourbon and Glico.
Chocolate was imported to Japan from a Dutch merchant ship during the Edo period, although it was not manufactured by Meiji in Japan until 1918.
I cannot express how good Japanese gummy candy is! First, opening a bag is an experience in itself. The fruity scents are a strong but welcome blow to the nose. The flavors are so rich and explode in your mouth when you chew. Even as I write this, I’m beginning to crave the juicy grape gums. I never leave Japan without some of them stowed in my suitcase.
Meiji gummy bears are among the best and I recommend strawberry, pineapple, peach and of course grapes. Oh, and apple is great too! Other brands make nostalgic flavors like cola gums, they’re pretty amazing too. I personally prefer the sweet gums, but maybe you can also look for savory flavors like tomatoes.
As you probably know, Japanese culture is obsessed with making worldly things look kawaii (sweet). If you love getting in touch with your creative side, these innovative DIY candy kits are for you! Although they can be a bit messy at times (maybe that’s just me), they are fun and pretty tasty no matter how they end up.
Make your own miniature sushi, bento boxes, ramen or ice cream sorbet candy, or even make your own fish on a fishing line. There are as many obscure ideas as there are varieties and ways to make them!
TRADITIONAL JAPANESE SNAKE
Did you know where senbei (Rice crackers) are said to date from the 8th century? Early sage was imported from China to Japan during the Tang Dynasty (609-907 AD) and developed over the centuries from potatoes to today’s roasted rice pieces. In the Edo period, a salty soy sauce increased the popularity of these crispy crackers, and today they make the perfect savory snacks from Japan to take home.
Traditional varieties of sage are black sesame, nori (Seaweed), red pepper, soy sauce, ebi (Shrimp), black soybeans and sugar for those with a sweet tooth. A great place to try them is along Nakimise-dori in Tokyo, the long shopping street that leads to the popular Senso-ji temple, and in the shop fronts around Komachi-dori in Kamakura. Let your nose lead you to these freshly grilled crackers, which are delicious when warm!
Taiyaki has a fascinating little story that you have probably never heard of! These fish-shaped cakes are made from pancakes or waffle dough, poured into a mold, filled with a delicious filling and cooked until golden brown. Their most traditional filling is red bean paste, but other flavors are pudding, chocolate, cheese, and sweet potatoes. Similar to imagawayakiTaiyaki are made from the same ingredients but are round.
While Imagawayaki dates from the Edo period, the fish shape was only created 100 years later during the Meiji period. But why are the fish versions so popular? The credit for the Japanese red bream creations goes to an Osaka businessman who owned an Imagawayaki store. To increase sales, he decided to make his treats in the shape of a happy fish, and they became far more popular than the original round version.
The buttery scent that fills the air when cooking taiyaki is hard to resist! These are also great to try when exploring older streets in Japan such as Nakamise-dori near Senso-ji and Konmachi-dori in Kamakura. Remember that this is not the case in Japan and do not go around eating.
TIP: The Meito Puku Puku Tai wafer versions of Taiyaki are great little snacks that you can keep for later. Inside, the filling has a bubbly texture, similar to aero chocolate, which stands out well from the crispy, but melting in the mouth waffle bowl.
These tiny treats have a big story! Ramune Sweets taste just like an old-fashioned soft drink (soda) imported to Japan from Great Britain in 1876. It was popularized at the time due to its uniquely shaped “codd neck” bottle and edible marble seal. To open the bottle, the marble must be pressed into the bottle neck so that the soda bubbles around it when drinking.
While the popularity of the lemon-lime soft drink has literally waned in Europe, Japan has managed to maintain the tradition for almost two centuries by restoring the popular beverage aroma to pill-sized carbonated candies. Nostalgia is very fashionable in Japan! They can best be described as hard sorbet that dissolves in your mouth.
Although Taiyaki are theoretically a modern variant Wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), now I’m referring to sweets in the more historical sense of the word. Wagashi are usually filled with a sweet bean paste and made by hand from rice flour. Their shapes can take the form of leaves, fruits and seasonal flowers such as cherry blossoms, roses, peonies and more. Wagashi make nice gifts and look almost too good to eat!
Wagashi are usually enjoyed in front of a bowl of green tea and are like exquisite little works of art. I tried two during my Kyoto tea ceremony Rakugan Wagashi. These are created by pressing soybean meal, sugar and other ingredients into traditional wooden molds. Wagashi is best consumed before drinking bitter matcha to prepare your taste buds.
The origins of Wagashi They are believed to date from the Asuka period (AD 538-710), when trading with the Tang Dynasty in China meant that new confectionery was introduced to the Japanese upper class. Isn’t it amazing how far the story of a single candy can go?
TIP: Some other types of Wagashi that you can encounter in Japan are Daifuku (soft rice cake Mochi) and Dango (Rice flour steamed dumplings). They are incredibly soft, but need to be chewed a lot!
If you like to get nostalgic, you will love Dagashi Goodies. These sometimes seasonal, small snacks can be compared to penny candies in the US or lollies from old shops in Australia. Their low prices make them popular with children who buy them pocket money on their way home from school in Japan. But don’t let that stop you!
Dagashi The packaging is usually covered with cartoon characters or shaped in Hawaiian creatures to seduce children or ignite the spark of childhood that we have within us. Some are miniature versions of larger items, such as mini cola cans filled with carbonated Ramune candies, miniature pudding cups, and other creative packaging, as mentioned earlier.
You can find Dagashi occasionally Dagashiya (dedicated store selling Dagashi). They were popular stores from the 1950s to 1980s, but were gradually replaced by over time combi (Convenience stores). Dagashiya also sells cheap children’s toys and games.
I went a little crazy in a traditional dagashiya on Penny Candy Lane in Kawagoe and took a bag full of goodies for around JPY 600. Now I wish I had bought more!
TIP: To travel back in time and find Tokyo’s oldest Dagashiya, visit the Kishibojin Shrine in the Toshima district. This shop called Kami-kawaguchiya has been in operation for over 230 years!
Where to find and how to order snacks from Japan
There are countless places across the country where you can buy all of these Japanese snacks. You will probably find all the popular ones in stores like Don Quixote, Daiso, airports all over Japan. combi (Grocery stores), large train stations and souvenir shops.
You can find Tokyo Banana especially at H.Aneda and Narita airports and at Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ueno or Shinagawa stations.
For the traditional snacks, the old districts in the big cities are the best choice. In each of my Japan itineraries, I discussed where to eat and mentioned some places to give you some ideas. In summary, these old-fashioned snacks are available (but not limited to) at the following locations:
- Tokyo – The Nakamise-dori shopping street leads to Senso-ji in Asakusa, which is mentioned in my Tokyo itinerary
- Kyoto – Nishiki market and Matsubara-dori (road to Kiyomizu-dera) that are mentioned in my Kyoto itinerary
- Osaka – Along Dotonbori, mentioned in my Osaka itinerary
- Hiroshima – Hondori shopping arcade mentioned in my guide to the sights of Hiroshima
- Miyajima – Omotosando shopping street mentioned in my guide for a day trip to Miyajima
- Takayama – Miyagawa market in the old town mentioned in my Takayama guide
So you can’t wait to visit Japan and want these snacks delivered to your door? Do not worry! You have several options:
- Tokyo Treat is a Japanese subscription box service based in Tokyo. They curate a delicious box of snacks on a specific topic every month and ship internationally. Read the review of my personal experiences with Tokyo Treat – it covers what you can expect, delivery times, first impressions, what is included and much more. (Pssst, and you can use code ALYSE at checkout for a discount!)
- Don’t want to sign up for a monthly subscription? Amazon may be the answer for you. Check out Amazon offers Japanese snacks to make it easier for you to get started!
Finally, the indispensable Japanese snacks
From today’s popular snacks to centuries-old traditional snacks, I hope this guide has inspired you to experience some new and exciting Japanese snacks that you may not have heard of. Which is the most fascinating story for you? I am firmly convinced to understand the meaning behind seemingly ordinary things in different cultures to make our trips more meaningful.
How many of these Japanese snacks do you want to get your hands on? Let me know in the comments below! If you are looking for more inspiration, I have plenty of travel guides and itineraries here my Japan travel blog. Your search for Japan was covered by the search for hidden gems, detailed city guides, the best time to travel for cherry blossoms and much more.
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