“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 should make it into your suitcase! Fear not my Japanese snack searcher, I LOVE bringing home souvenirs from Japan – finding out the cultural and historical reasons behind their popularity is half the fun.
Having visited this amazing country several times now (and shared my personal itineraries on my Japan travel blog), I’m proud to say I’ve tried my fair share of Japanese snacks over the years. I always find new and exciting morsels to devour, so I decided to put together this guide to make the selection process easier for you.
History and tradition are still interwoven into everyday life, so many of these snacks from Japan have fascinating stories behind them. And as an invisible tourist I want to know what they are! This interesting feature makes them all the more meaningful once you get your hands on them – and I’ll let you know where.
Finally, don’t worry if you can’t get to Japan anytime soon. I’ve got you covered here as I’ll also share how you can bring Japanese snacks to you. If you want to learn the significance of these treats to make enjoying them more meaningful, read on for more!
This Japanese snacks guide will cover:
This post contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Must-have snacks from Japan and where to find them
Do you ever have that feeling at 3pm where you feel like eating something without being hungry? This is kuchisabishii, meaning “to eat because your mouth is lonely” 😆 (take a look at more fascinating Japanese words and their meanings here). This is the perfect time for snacks.
If you’re wondering what snacks from Japan to buy, these popular & traditional Japanese snacks with their interesting history and flavours will give you a good place to start. Let’s begin!
POPULAR JAPANESE SNACKS
Japan is known for its experimentation with crazy snack combinations so I recommend you get outside your comfort zone and give each of these a try. Why not?
Is it even a real guide to snacks from Japan if it doesn’t mention the world-famous Japanese Kit Kats? These are especially unique Japanese souvenirs because of the quirky and sometimes eyebrow-raising flavours you can’t find anywhere else. All I can say is the department that comes up with these quirky tastes are very imaginative!
Japanese Kit Kats have come a long way since they were first introduced to the country from the US in the 1970’s. Today, different regions in Japan have their own specialties to help promote local flavours, there are over 300!
My all-time personal favourite is shinshu apple from Nagano. I could honestly eat them all day. Keep your eye out if you’re exploring Japan off the beaten path for these special editions.
Kit Kat do a fabulous job incorporating traditional Japanese tastes such as red bean, Japanese sake, matcha and even wasabi into these treats. Sweet flavoured Kit Kats include strawberry cheesecake, cookies and cream, mint and of course, sakura (cherry blossom).
Savoury flavours include chestnut, roasted soybean and sweet potato, although there are plenty others. Limited editions such as Tokyo Banana (more below) and tiramisu are highly sought after, too!
TIP: Before you open your Kit Kat from its shiny wrapper, take a second to prepare to savour the aroma. Regular Kit Kats you have at home do NOT prepare you for the amazing scent as you open Japanese Kit Kats!
Did you know? Kit Kats make popular gifts to wish students luck before exams in Japan. Every January (exam time) Nestlé noticed a surge in the sales of Kit Kats. Turns out this was because Kit Kat in Japanese sounds like the phrase “kitto-katsu”. When translated this means “to surely win” so customers wanted to pass this luck onto their loved ones!
Another one of the best Japanese snacks is Tokyo Banana. As the name suggests, these fluffy banana-shaped sponge cakes filled with delicious custard cream have been exclusively available in the Tokyo region since 1991. As a Japanese sweet, they are considered wagashi (more on this down the page).
As Japan is steeped in tradition – especially gift-giving – it’s elegant wrapping makes it the perfect omiyage (gifted souvenir) to bring home from Tokyo for your loved ones. Just like Kit Kats, Tokyo Banana also come in a range of flavours and limited edition designs so you could choose one that suits the personality of the lucky recipient you’re gifting them to.
TIP: Tokyo Banana have a short expiry, usually about a week. Without realising I’ve eaten them a few days after the expiry and they still tasted ok, but it’s good to keep in mind if you’re gifting these to someone else.
Have you seen the famous Glico Man billboard in Osaka? The company behind this, Glico, have been manufacturing many kinds Japanese snacks since 1922. Despite their factories being destroyed across the country during WWII, Glico came back stronger than ever and today favourites such as Pocky and Pretz are instantly recognisable the world over.
As mentioned above, the most well-known biscuits sticks are Pocky and Pretz. Pocky are tasty chocolate-coated biscuit sticks in a huge variety of flavours, such as cookies and cream, green tea, strawberry and choc banana. I’ve even seen purple sweet potato.
Pretz are similar, but are seasoned with savoury flavours. Their crunchy texture remind me of Italian bread sticks served before a meal at a Mediterranean restaurant, especially the tomato flavoured ones – they’re my personal go-to!
While there are countless types of biscuits to sift through when considering the snacks from Japan to purchase, Meiji’s Hello Panda and Lotte’s Koalas should also make the cut. These bite-sized shortbread pillows are filled with creamy chocolate or strawberry and make great little gifts for kids.
I’ve also tried kinosei biscuits (snack with a health perk ranging from collagen-boosting to aiding digestion). They weren’t that great, though!
Potato Chips & Savoury Puffs
Some of my favourite snacks from Japan are the seemingly ordinary potato chips. Because we’re talking about Japan I promise there’s nothing ordinary about them! I’m sure you’re sensing a trend here as again, the flavour combos go so well together.
I dare you to try some of the awesome flavour combinations of Japanese potato chips – some are even coated in chocolate. Seriously! The crunchiness of the crinkle-cut chips contrasts well with creamy chocolate, it’s a pleasant surprise for sure.
What I enjoy most about Japanese potato chips is that compared to Western snacks, they aren’t oily or greasy. I’ve found myself eating a whole bag before because they are much lighter on your stomach!
Since 1949, Calbee has established itself as a popular brand of potato chips and savoury puffs, you can’t really go wrong picking up a few bags of their products.
You can find traditional flavours such as nori (seaweed), ume (plum blossom), soy sauce and wasabi to more mainstream tastes such as pizza, honey butter, vegetable, sweet potato and even curry. I highly rate snow pea crisps too, they’re much like Pringles and very moreish.
Obviously Kit Kats fall under this category but I felt they were deserving of their own dedicated section! No guide to Japanese snacks would be complete without mentioning the delicious, quality chocolates available throughout the country. The richer flavour of Japanese chocolate to me is preferable over Western brands such as Cadbury and Nestlé’s classic chocolate bars.
Meiji is one of the most popular chocolate brands you’ll find in Japan. I love stashing them in my handbag to snack on bite-sized pieces throughout the day as I explore. The pieces are individually wrapped so it’s easy to stop yourself at one (or is it?). Meiji chocolate-coated almonds or macadamia nuts are absolutely delectable, too.
Lotte’s Crunky is one of my favourites as well, it’s similar to a Nestlé Crunch bar. Crunchy rice crisps and creamy chocolate are melded together to create this delicious masterpiece.
The brand Fujiya has an amazing little vanilla cream-filled creation called Milky, the distinctive cartoon face of a girl named Peko-chan adorns the red packaging. You also can’t go wrong with chocolate from beloved brands Bourbon and Glico.
Chocolate was introduced to Japan during the Edo period from a Dutch trading vessel, although it wasn’t actually manufactured in Japan until 1918 by Meiji.
I can’t express how good Japanese gummy candies are! Firstly, cracking open a pouch of these is an experience in itself, the fruity scents are a strong yet welcome hit to your nose.
The flavours are so rich and explode in your mouth as you chew. Even as I write this I’m beginning to crave the juicy grape gummies, I never leave Japan without some of these stashed in my suitcase.
Meiji gummy candies are some of the best and I highly recommend strawberry, pineapple, peach and of course grape. Oh, and apple is awesome as well! Other brands make nostalgic flavours such as cola gummies, they’re also pretty amazing.
I personally prefer the sweet gummies, but you may also be able to hunt down savoury flavours such as tomato.
As you’re probably aware, Japanese culture has an obsession with making mundane things look kawaii (cute). If you love getting in touch with your creative side, these innovative DIY candy kits are for you! Although they can be a little messy sometimes (perhaps that’s just me), these are quite fun to make and are pretty tasty regardless of how they turn out.
Make your own miniature sushi, bento boxes, ramen or ice-cream sherbet candies, or even create your own fish on a fishing line. There are just as many obscure ideas as there are varieties and ways of making them!
TRADITIONAL JAPANESE SNACKS
Did you know the origins of senbei (rice crackers) are said to date back to the 8th century? Early senbei were introduced to Japan from China during the Tang Dynasty (609 – 907 AD) and evolved from potato over the centuries into today’s toasted rice morsels.
The Edo period saw a salty soy sauce version boost the popularity of these crispy crackers and today they make the perfect savoury snacks from Japan to bring home.
Traditional varieties of senbei include black sesame, nori (seaweed), red pepper, soy sauce, ebi (prawn), black soybean and sugar for the sweet tooth.
A great place to try these is along Nakimise-dori in Tokyo, the long shopping street leading up to the beloved Senso-ji temple, old town Tokyo Yanaka, and in storefronts around Komachi-dori in Kamakura. Let your nose guide you to these freshly-grilled crackers that are delectable when warm!
Taiyaki have a fascinating little story I’m sure you haven’t heard of! These fish-shaped cakes are made from pancake or waffle batter, poured into a mold, stuffed with a delicious filling and cooked until golden.
Their most traditional filling is red bean paste but other flavours include custard, chocolate, cheese and sweet potato. Similar to imagawayaki, taiyaki are made from the same ingredients but are round in shape.
While imagawayaki date back to the Edo period, the fish shape wasn’t created until 100 years later during the Meiji period. But why are the fish versions so popular?
Credit for the Japanese red sea bream creations goes to an Osaka businessman, who owned an imagawayaki shop. To boost his sales he decided to make his treats in the lucky fish shape, and they became far more popular than the original round version.
The buttery scent that fills the air when taiyaki are cooking is difficult to resist! Again, these are great to sample as you explore older streets in Japan such as Nakamise-dori near Senso-ji and Konmachi-dori in Kamakura. Remember these do’s and don’ts in Japan and not walk around eating.
TIP: The Meito Puku Puku Tai wafer versions of taiyaki are great little snacks to stash for later. Inside, the filling has a bubbly texture much like Aero chocolate which contrasts well with the crunchy yet melt-in-your-mouth wafer shell.
These tiny treats have a big history! Ramune candy is designed to taste exactly like an old-fashioned soft drink (soda) that was introduced to Japan from the UK in 1876.
It was made popular at the time due to its uniquely shaped “codd-neck” bottle and glass marble seal. To open the bottle, the marble has to be pushed down into the bottle’s neck so the soda fizzes around it as you drink.
While the popularity of the lemon-lime soft drink has literally fizzled out in Europe, Japan has managed to keep the tradition alive for almost two centuries by re-creating the beloved beverage flavour in pill-sized fizzy candies.
Nostalgia is very fashionable in Japan! Ramune can best be described as hard sherbet that dissolves in your mouth.
Although in theory taiyaki are a modern twist on wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), now I am referring to sweets in the more historic sense of the word. Wagashi are usually filled with a sweet bean paste and are delicately hand-crafted 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 beautiful gifts and almost look too good to eat!
Usually enjoyed before a bowl of green tea, wagashi are like exquisite little artworks. During my Kyoto tea ceremony experience I sampled two rakugan wagashi. These are created by pressing soybean flour, sugar and other ingredients into traditional wooden molds.
Wagashi are best consumed before drinking the bitter matcha to prepare your palate.
The origins of wagashi are believed to date back to the Asuka period (538 – 710 AD) when trade with the Tang Dynasty in China meant new confectioneries were introduced to the upper classes in Japan. Isn’t it amazing how far back the history of a single sweet can go?
TIP: Some other types of wagashi you may 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 getting nostalgic, you’re going to love dagashi treats. These sometimes seasonal, small snacks can be likened to penny candies in the US or lollies from the old corner shops in Australia.
Their cheap prices make them popular with children who use pocket money to buy them on the way home from school in Japan. Don’t let that stop you, though!
Dagashi packaging is usually covered with cartoon characters or shaped in kawaii creatures to entice children or ignite that childhood spark we have within. Some are miniature versions of larger items, such as mini cola cans filled with fizzy Ramune candies as mentioned earlier, miniature pudding tubs and other creative types of packaging.
You can find dagashi at the occasional dagashiya (dedicated store selling dagashi). They were popular stores from the 1950’s – 1980’s however over time they have gradually been replaced by kombini (convenience stores). Dagashiya also sell cheap children’s toys and games.
I went a little nuts in a traditional dagashiya on Penny Candy Lane in Kawagoe, picking up a bag full of goodies for around 600 JPY. Now I wish I bought more!
TIP: If you’d like to step back in time and find Tokyo’s oldest dagashiya, head to Kishibojin Shrine in the Toshima neighbourhood. Named Kami-kawaguchiya, this store has been operating for over 230 years!
Where to find and how to order snacks from Japan
There are countless places throughout the country to purchase all these Japanese snacks. You’re likely to find all the popular ones in stores such as Don Quijote, Daiso, airports throughout Japan, kombini (convenience stores), major train stations and souvenir shops.
Tokyo Banana can specifically be found at Haneda and Narita airports, as well as at Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ueno or Shinagawa stations.
For the traditional snacks, your best bet are the old parts of town in the major cities. In each of my Japan itineraries, I’ve discussed where to eat and mentioned some spots to give you some ideas. In summary, these old-fashioned snacks can be found at (but not limited to) these locations:
- Tokyo – Nakamise-dori shopping street leading up to Senso-ji in Asakusa, mentioned in my Tokyo itinerary, and also in Yanaka Ginza, a preserved Edo-era neighbourhood
- Kyoto – Nishiki Market and Matsubara-dori (street leading to Kiyomizu-dera), mentioned in my Kyoto itinerary
- Osaka – Along Dotonbori, mentioned in my Osaka itinerary
- Hiroshima – Hondori shopping arcade, mentioned in my guide to Hiroshima attractions
- Miyajima – Omotosando shopping street, mentioned in my guide to a Miyajima day trip
- Takayama – Miyagawa Market in the Old Town, mentioned in my Takayama guide
- Kamakura – Komachi-dori, mentioned in my Kamakura day trip guide
- Kawagoe – Kashiya Yokocho (Penny Candy Alley), mentioned in my Kawagoe day trip guide.
Order Japanese snacks and sweets online
So you can’t wait until you visit Japan and want these snacks delivered to your door? No worries! You have a few options:
- Tokyo Treat is a Japanese subscription box service based in Tokyo. They curate a delicious box of popular and trending snacks based on a theme each month and ship internationally. Snacks include chips, chocolates and more. Read the review of my personal experience with Tokyo Treat – it covers what to expect, delivery times, first impressions, what’s included and more.
- Sakuraco is a sister box to TokyoTreat, however it focuses on traditional, artisanal Japanese sweets and desserts from local makers. Sweets include Japanese cakes, wagashi, taiyaki, seasonal teas and even homewares. Each box is also curated to suit a theme each month and ships internationally. Read my detailed Sakuraco review and find out what to expect.
- Prefer not to sign up to a monthly subscription? Although you can cancel TokyoTreat and Sakuraco anytime, Amazon could be the answer for you. Check out Amazon’s range of Japanese snacks to get you started!
Concluding the must-have Japanese snacks
From today’s popular snacks to the centuries-old traditional ones, I hope this guide has inspired you to experience some new and exciting Japanese snacks you may not have heard of. Which has the most fascinating history for you? I’m a firm believer in understanding the significance behind seemingly ordinary things in different cultures to make our trips more meaningful.
How many of these snacks from Japan do you want to get your hands on? Let me know in the comments below! If you’re after more inspiration, I have many travel guides and itineraries here on my Japan travel blog, including how to spend 2 weeks in Japan or 3 weeks in Japan. From finding hidden gems, detailed city guides, best time to visit for cherry blossoms and more, I have your Japan trip covered.
Want to learn my strategies for how to “blend in” anywhere around the globe? Find out by reading my #1 Amazon New Release Book!
Until next time,
Do you love Japanese sweets, snacks and candies?
Read my Tokyo Treat review and get popular Japanese snacks delivered here, or read my Sakuraco review and get traditional Japanese sweets delivered here!
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This guide to snacks from Japan contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!