No matter how long you live in Japan, there will still be a lot of things to surprise you every day. Maybe it’s the innovative and restless nature of the Japanese to always come up with something new, something extravagant, something nobody ever thought of. Or if they did, they were too scared to try it.
That’s pretty much amazing considering that the odds of getting bored in Japan are close to zero. There will always be new attractions in the theme parks, new original cafes where you can pet almost any animal in God’s creation, or a new line of clothes especially for whatever kind of weather they haven’t released a line for already.
I was personally impressed (read: literally in awe) with the diversity of products, the new releases coming up every month, that in almost 4 years spent in Japan, I never really had a favorite brand of something. I would just try everything new all the time. And that’s what always made shopping fun.
Now, the same thing happens with food.
I have never seen more diversity in food products, especially from one season to the next, than I saw in Japan.
So here is my list of amazing Japanese trends, that I honestly believe no one would have ever come up with, in any other place in the world.
Yes, we know, sakura is a national Japanese symbol. Cherry blossoms became a Japanese cliche even in the West. Even Powerpoint has a “Japanese” template which is basically a white and yellow slide with some sakura on the side. In other words, add some sakura and you’ll Japan-ify anything.
So why not add in chocolate, chips and even burgers.
Yes, you heard me right. Spring brings to Japan a flood of sakura, both in nature with petals swirling in the wind, and our stomachs.
桜チョコ(sakura chocolate) is probably the most common sakura product in spring. Meiji (the most consumed Japanese chocolate brand) has a special collection (my favorite is Porute, with strawberry sakura flavor), Pocky has its own sakura white chocolate sticks, Kit kat has a whole line of sakura waffles. Basically the whole chocolate stand in a convenience store in late March early April is filled with sakura products. That’s how big the trend is. Oh, and have I told you that the famous Swiss brand Lindt has a Sakura ice drink special edition?
As I said, sakura is everywhere. As much as I enjoyed the chocolate, I must say I was intrigued by the Calbee sakura chips. It was quite popular among my friends though so I think it’s more a matter of taste (I just don’t enjoy sweet and salty chips).
And what can I say about the sakura buns at Mcdonalds?
The taste is not bad (a bit like sweet bread) but the mochi-mochi texture was quite unbearable. It wasn’t even that popular, I believe I stopped seeing it in Mcdonalds after 2 weeks at most.
When I was a kid the only edible animals were the gummy bears we’d stuff our stomachs with before lunch or dinner just to feel sick hours after.
In Japan there is nothing weird about seeing cute tiny food animals all over the place. Mothers make tiny pandas or Rilakkumas for their kids’ bentos. Restaurants serve hiyoko & Rilakkuma made of rice floating in curry.
Your favorite snacks most likely look like small koalas, pandas, or any other cutesie animal (sometimes plant) -like figure.
Oh, let’s not forget the Krispy Creme doughnuts glazed in the shape of dogs, cats, teddies, bunnies or whatever your request might be (you need to pre-order though).
The kawaii trend is strong with all ages, and the high demand forces companies to stay up to date and bring something new all the time. And if it sells and it’s cute, who are we to judge?
I was quite happy with this food choice as I doubted the calory value of Japanese meals ( I was wrong…). And also because I love mayonnaise.
But then there is mayo pizza.
And mayo ramen.
And mayo rice.
I honestly believe that the only ones exempted from being spread with mayonnaise are the sweets. But God knows what Japanese food companies will bring next.
Also, the Japanese passion for mayonnaise is so strong that there are hundreds of mayo recipes and even more of mayo & other combinations. As in mayo ice cream (which some bloggers who tried it consider it divine) and mayo waffles and donuts.
I must say in the beginning I would only accept mayo in onigiri or on yakisoba and okonomiyaki. Then on karaage and ebi fry. Maybe some on tonkatsu or even fried udon. Then why not on pizza with a lot of corn on top? And this is how I literally started to eat mayo with almost everything, just like everybody.
Oh, that is only Kewpie mayo. Speaking of the importance of Kawaii… Who could say no to Kewpie?
And a strawberry cake.
This is one of the trends that baffled me the most.
I always knew Japanese Christmas is different, that the New Year’s is more traditional and family oriented and the Christmas is something you spend with your soul mate. After all, Christmas is different all over the world and differences are what makes it so enjoyable everywhere.
It just bugged me that people queue at KFC on the eve to get their share of spicy chicken for this year’s Christmas. I also knew about the trend to have a KFC date dinner on Christmas eve. I never realized it until a good friend invited me on 24 December to get some KFC and a strawberry cake and spend the eve together.
I was petrified. Not that a guy I only had a few classes with and to whom I only spoke 3-4 times, asked me out on Christmas eve, all of a sudden. Not that I knew it was a last resort and I was laughing my heart out on the inside.
But because I realized that for him a KFC date and a conbini ichigo taruto is his most magical Christmas wish.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect all traditions and each and every single one of them has its own peculiarities which only make you want to study more about it. For instance, Christmas KFC comes from the fact that the chain restaurant opened in Japan right after the war and it was strongly associated with America and a thriving lifestyle. Back then, eating KFC was a sign of richness, and it definitely didn’t have the “fast food junk” stigma it bears nowadays. Come to think of, remember the beginnings of Mcdonald’s and everyone’s joy to get a happy meal, and the privilege that was.
That being said, KFC is still some sort of a privilege, with prices for the cheapest menu hovering around the 1000 yen figure. Mind that with the same money you can eat a three-course menu at a Japanese traditional restaurant. And be healthy.
But, that aside, I quite enjoyed a few hot wings on Christmas eves, and didn’t even bother to question this tradition once I took the first bite. More about Christmas in Japan, in another article though.
Sure, it doesn’t mean they will send you straight to the toilet. It also doesn’t mean their look and just the idea of using them will not make you do it.
Mokoletto was released in 2012 and it marked the beginning of a toilet/unko food boom. The Mokoletto is a tiny plastic toilet in which you are supposed to prepare a fizzy drink, sip on it with a straw, then clean it with a special tiny toilet cleaner, which comes with the package. Kawaii-ness aside, I met a number of people who thought that this would literally only be funny for pre-school children and considered it disgusting. Some others gave it a try. The white one tastes like ramune by the way.
Also there’s unchi kun gumi, a gummy that literally, as the name says, looks like a tiny… Well you can take a look below.
This however, is not only a Japanese trend. China made the top page a few years ago with the first cafe where people could literally eat their ice cream from a potty. Well, from dishes that looked like potties. Or toilets. Or bides. You get the picture.
There’s also the famous (and totally delicious) Collon snacks. I truly want to believe it was a mistake of the one who picked up the name. I am pretty sure it wasn’t considering the shape. And I can totally vouch for these sweets. Just get over the name and enjoy!
To whoever thinks this is totally weird, I can agree but in the meantime it’s totally understandable from a Japanese point of view. These kind of sweets (or many others which just imply the idea) show a sense of humour that is not to be found in other cultures (just listen to some owarai or even rakugo. Unchi related jokes are all over the place) and also a lack of inhibitions towards natural human body processes.
The one thing I had some issues when it came to Japanese food was the tamagokani. This snack features real (REAL) tiny crabs, dead and dried and covered in spices.
One would say, you eat the crabs anyway in restaurants, izakayas etc.
Yes, but not out of the bag.
Not like chips.
Anyway, I refused to buy this for ages. Until one day at a party, some friends bought a huge bag of snacks.
There were all sorts of peanuts, kakipi, ebi senbei and arare… And tiny tiny dried chirimen.
Yes, tiny dead fish. Really salty, quite crunchy.
I couldn’t get over the look in their dead eyes before I chewed them. The whole night. A few months later I bought a bag of tamagokani. I could only eat one and that, after I spared the head.
This is my list of top 6 weird Japanese food trends. Note that I didn’t include the classic ones like natto, konyaku or mentaiko. I learned to love them ever since the first few months over there, and even though not really popular among foreigners, they are far from extreme, weird or funny. And after all, everything is relative, especially when it comes to food, because as they say, it’s easier to change a person’s religion than their food habits.