Japan’s first snack boom was in the 15th century when Samurai invented small portable foods that had a long shelf life for battle. Many of these snacks have survived to this day.
The next wave of Japanese snack innovation came in the 1860s after Japanese markets suddenly opened to imported sugar and grains. Western style snacks were amongst the first Japanese factory products as the country began to industrialise. Such snacks weren’t western for long as they quickly adapted to the local culture.
Snacks continued to gain popularity as industrialisation picked up speed and workers spent more time at the factory or office. The children of these workers had more pocket money and became a significant customer for snack companies. The Japanese snack food industry became highly competitive and popular brands introduced new limited addition flavours on a monthly basis in order to gain shelf space at Japanese convenience stores and supermarkets.
It’s a common complaint in Japan that snacks come and go quickly. Just when you find something you like, they stop making it. In this environment of constant change, a few snacks have held up to become classics. These are the snacks that have held on for decades or longer to become much adored symbols of Japanese snack culture.
- Amanatto – A variety of beans such as black soybeans that are boiled in sugar and then dried. They are classic Japanese sweet that are most popular amongst people over 80 years of age. Amanatto are also used in baking, for example amanatto bread is a common sweet bread in Japan.
- Irimame – Dried soybeans that are thrown at demons on Japan’s Setsubun holiday. Any beans that are left can be eaten. Traditionally you’re supposed to eat the number of Irimame equal to your age on Setsubun.
- Kaki peanuts
- Toriaezu Edamame
- Anpan – A type of sweet roll invented in 1875 by a former Samurai. They are most often filled with red bean paste.
- Hello Panda
- Kappa Ebisen
- Koala’s March
- Manju – Chinese-style steamed buns that have a bread-like outer shell and a sweet inner filling. The bread is somewhat sticky and they are often have wax paper on the bottom. Manju come in hundreds of varieties.
- Melonpan – A type of sweet bun from Japan, that is also popular in Taiwan, China and Latin America. They are made from an enriched dough covered in a thin layer of crisp cookie dough.
- Pocky – A brand of chocolate covered biscuit sticks launched in 1966 that have a chocolate-free zone on each stick for your hands. They have gone on to become a classic Japanese snack that is well known in Asia. They have been released in hundreds of flavours but the red packaged chocolate flavour is the timeless classic.
- Pretz – A brand of seasoned pretzel-like sticks they were first released in 1962 predating other stick-shaped Japanese snacks such as pocky.
- Yan Yan
- Calpis Candy
- Chelsea-made by Meiji Confectionery in Japan
- Ichigo Ame – The strawberry version of candy apples. They are occasionally available from street vendors, particularly in peak strawberry season. Large varieties of Japanese strawberries such as Benihoppe or Amaou are usually used.
- Karinto – A deep fried Japanese sweet with a characteristic burnt appearance and crunchy texture that date back to the Edo-era. They are increasingly rare in modern times but can be found at old fashioned cafes and ryokan as a snack.
- Konpeito – Traditional Japanese sugar candies that have a rough texture and star shape. Quality konpeito are manufactured according to a 19th century process that takes close to 2 weeks. Although they’re just sugar, they’re considered a fancy sweet that can be presented a formal events such as tea ceremony.
- Pinky (candy)
- Ramune Candy
- Botan/Tomoe Ame
- gumi 100
- Pure gumi candy
- Black Black
- Kiss Mint and Watering Kissmint
- whatta (chewing gum by meiji)
- Pure White
- Plus X
- Kyabetsu Taro
- Choco Baby
- Choco Ball
- Choco Banana – Chocolate or strawberry chocolate coated bananas on a stick are a classic Japanese festival food. They are typically covered in chocolate sprinkles. In some cases, the chocolate used is more waxy than sweet.
- Crunky kids
- Every Burger – Hamburger shaped snacks with a cookie bun, milk chocolate patty and white chocolate for cheese.
- Lotte Ghana
- Kinoko no yama – Literally “mushroom mountain”, are a brand of biscuits shaped like mushrooms topped with chocolate that come in several flavours. They have a sister product called Takenoko No Sato that are shaped like bamboo shoots.
- Takenoko no sato
- Koara no machi
- Pucca Chocolate
- Green Tea Ice Cream – This flavour is extremely popular in Japan and South Korea, and other parts of East Asia, and almost all ice cream manufacturers produce a version of it.
- Kakigori – A Japanese shaved ice dessert that’s considered a summer classic that hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years. It’s available from street vendors and cafes. Many families also make Kakigori at home with a hand-cranked ice shaver. Common toppings include sugar syrups, condensed milk or traditional Japanese sweets such as anko.
- Monaka – A Japanese sweet made with a crispy outer layer similar to an ice cream cone. They are traditionally filled with red bean paste, mochi or chestnut paste. In modern times, ice cream is often added as well.
- Yukimi Daifuku – Balls of ice cream wrapped in mochi that are available in a variety of flavours including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and green tea. They were first launched in 1981 and are considered the first mochi ice cream.
- Fuki Lakatori
- Kataage Potato
- Bokun Habanero
- Jagariko – A brand of stick-shaped potato chips that are known for their iconic cup-like packaging. Jagariko were introduced in 1995 and were an instant hit that tapped Japan’s fondness for stick shaped snacks such as pocky and pretz.
- Kara Mucho and Suppa Mucho
- Pote Long
- Kappa Ebisen
Rice based snacks that are known as beika (米菓).
- Arare – A type of small, roundish Japanese crackers made with glutinous rice and flavoured with soy sauce. Arare often have something at their centre such as peanuts or peas.
- Daifuku – Mochi filled with sweet fillings such as anko. Daifuku come in endless varieties and are easy to find in Japan. They’re as common as cake.
- Dango – rice dumplings that are usually served on a stick with a sweet topping.
- Kaminari okoshi
- Kaki No Tane – Literally “kaki seeds”, are senbei rice crackers with a distinctive shape that look like the seeds of a kaki fruit. They are slightly spicy as their ingredients include a small amount of chilli powder. Kaki No Tane are usually served mixed with peanuts and are considered a drinking snack.
- Kusa mochi
- Olive no Hana
- Senbei – Senbei are Japanese rice crackers. They are available in hundreds of flavours, shapes and colors. Senbei are best fresh off the grill.
- See also: Wagashi
- Big Katsu – an inexpensive snack designed to look like Tonkatsu, a popular Japanese breaded pork dish. Despite its appearance it’s made of Japanese fish paste, also known as surimi.
- Ebi senbei
- Miyako Konbu
- Yotchan Ika
- Dorayaki – Dorayaki are two castella pancakes sandwiched together with anko and other ingredients such as whipped cream.
- Imagawayaki – A Japanese street food that resemble thick pancakes filled with red bean paste, custard, fruit jams, meat, potatoes or curry.
- Nikuman – The Japanese name for Chinese Baozi dumplings filled with pork.
Mixed and other
- Anmitsu – A classic Japanese dessert that is made from ingredients such as anko, agar jelly, mochi, fruits, boiled peas and ice cream served in a bowl with a small pot of black syrup or kinako on the side.
- Bisuko – A cookie of two plain biscuits sandwiched together with vanilla cream that dates back to 1933.
- Castella – Sponge cakes that were introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Despite their simple taste, they remain popular in Japan today.
- Crepes – Crepes shops, often with 30 or more plastic models out front that represent the menu, are a common sight in Japan. The pancakes used in Japanese crepes are similar to the French original but the ingredients inside tend to be quite different.
- Don Tacos
- Umaibo – A brand of individually wrapped corn puffs that come in dozens of flavours both savoury and sweet. They are represented by a cat mascot that looks remarkably like Doraemon.
- Wasabi Peas – Roasted peas partially covered in a batter that includes wasabi powder or flavouring. Real wasabi is difficult to cultivate and is fairly expensive. It’s common for snacks to include simulated wasabi flavour such as horseradish.