Japan takes snacking to a whole ‘nother level, with an ever-evolving parade of tasty snacks with endless flavor variations, cute characters, and packaging triumphs, to power you through your day. Today we foray into the land of chocolate, focusing specifically on the region of chocolate junk food. It may not be sophisticated, but we are not sophisticated people. We like our chocolate snacks shaped like koalas and filled with pudding, thank you very much.
Meiji Milk Chocolate tablet. This is the go-to when you want a basic bar of milk chocolate. This classic chocolate bar comes in a simple and elegant brown wrapper with gold writing. It’s not fancy or high-brow – bean to bar is only just starting to make headway in Japan – but this is a silky milk chocolate bar under a thin foil wrapper that shatters into slivers when you break it. This sweet bar is much smoother than its American counterpart, Hershey’s, and has a creamy mouthfeel.
Runners up: Lotte makes a milk chocolate bar called Ghana that is the other major player in this category. During the last World Cup, we heard some people in a bar in Tokyo chanting “Chocolate! Chocolate!” while the Ghana team played, because this chocolate bar was apparently their only point of reference to the country.
Koala’s March. The koala juggernaut is unstoppable, known to probably every kid in Japan. The classic version of these quarter-sized koala-shaped bites have a cookie outside and a chocolate filling that come in a tall octogonal box. Each cookie is imprinted with a koala doing a different activity – reading a book, pulling a face, munching some snacks. Impressively, the last package I got had only one or two doubles. The koala kingdom is wide, and you can find character gear, t-shirts, English-language cookies for ESL, phone apps and more.
Further koala options: These come in a bunch of flavors and incarnations. Chocolate and strawberry chocolate are the most popular, and the most recent flavor release is custard pudding.
Lotte’s Almond Chocolate. These chocolate covered almonds come in a nifty slide-out tray and are sold in most any train station kiosk, convenience store, or on the rolling snack carts on the bullet train. Our personal favorite version has crispies embedded into the enrobed chocolate.
See also: There are several incarnations of this snack, mostly made by Lotte and Meiji. You can get these plain, with crunchies, or with macadamia nuts instead of almonds. There’s also a matcha chocolate version.
Peko and Poko strawberry chocolate lollipops. Peko-chan is the cute cover girl for the confectionary and restaurant company Fujiya, and these strawberry chocolate pops come in pairs, one in the likeness of Peko-chan and one with her friend Poko-chan. Even though Fujiya had some problems a few years back when it came out that they were using expired dairy in their products, Peko-chan is still well-known and well-loved. The choco pops are classic kid picks.
Mugi Choco is a popular snack that’s often found in the “drinking snacks” section (yes, there’s a drinking snacks section, which has things like salted nuts, dried octopus, and small, spicy rice crackers). This little nugget looks a lot like a chocolate covered raisin, but is actually chocolate covered puffed barley.
More crunchy drinking snacks: Potato Choco (just what it sounds like) and Daizu Choco Ball (chocolate covered crunchy fried soybeans).
Flavored Kit Kats. We didn’t want to talk about imported, non-Japanese chocs, but Japanese Kit Kats have a life of their own. Especially popular with students taking exams, the Japanese pronunciation of Kit Kat is “kitto katto,” which sounds like “a sure win.” Far from the same-old chocolate covered wafer cookie that you may know, Kit Kat Japan is constantly coming out with new, strange, and wonderful chocolate flavors. Common picks include strawberry, matcha, and dark chocolate, but you can also find raspberry, sweet potato, and vanilla pudding (which the package advises you can put in the toaster oven to create a creme brulee Kit Kat). The most recent weird flavor is the Nihonshu (sake) Kit Kat, which has actual sake powder mixed into the white chocolate. These taste surprisingly boozy (with a 0.8 percent alcohol content) and actually not gross.
Takenoko no Sato. Another favorite with small people and forest creatures, Takenoko no Sato means “Bamboo Shoot Village,” and these little chocolate cookie concoctions are shaped like, you guessed it, bamboo shoots. The packaging, a box that opens to a tray, is decorated in green with whimsical pictures of cottages and birds. This one and its cousin, Kinoko no Yama (“Mushroom Mountain”), prove that it’s just as fun to play with your food as to eat it. And yes, these both come in strawberry too.
Pocky Panda. Pocky is inescapable. First making its debut in the 1960s, the chocolate dipped biscuit-cookie stick has since gone on to conquer snacktime in countries spanning the globe. Pocky and its imitators now take up multiple supermarket shelves in Japan with a huge array of flavors and mix-ins. Pocky Panda is a chocolate cookie stick with a Oreo-cream-type flavored white chocolate coating with a few crunchy chocolate bits. Pocky even has its own holiday: November 11 (11/11), because, look at all those tall thin stick-like numbers!
One million variations: can be found in stores, including by imitators like Fran. Try the Men’s Pocky, which has dark chocolate, because only men like dark chocolate and they certainly don’t like milk chocolate.
Collon. These little chocolate cream-filled wafer tubes are a lot tastier than they sound. With a flaky, crispy outside and a fluffy, light filling, these satisfy the sweet tooth and can be found in any convenience store in a bunch of flavors. Try Cream Collon, Strawberry Collon or the winter special that we picked up: Kuchidoke (“Melt in Your Mouth”) Collon Brandy Chocolate. Once you try these, you will probably stop focusing on the soft brown filling and will forget all about colonoscopies.
Crunky Kids. Crunky is another big chocolate name that can be found just about anywhere. Crunky’s basic premise is crunch chocolate, but comes in many forms including bars, balls, and ice cream bars. The crunchiness (crunkiness) comes from malt puffs sprinkled liberally throughout the chocolate, and Crunky Kids comes in bite-sized pellets. The ice cream bar is an especially fine example. Crunky!