A few weeks ago, one of my professors went off on a tangent while lecturing:
“I was looking through a text book which read, ‘Japanese are nature-loving people.’ As if other people don’t love nature! I don’t know where you’re from, but many places also have seasonal changes! If you were from Boston, it's not as if you wouldn't notice the drastic change from winter to spring to summer! But somehow the Japanese have this ingrained idea that we have a special relationship with nature -- that we’re so in tune with seasonal changes. But think about it: how unique is this relationship to Japanese people?”
It was, I thought, an incredibly funny and astute observation. Any tourist campaign regarding Japan harps almost excessively about seasonality, with statements such as, "The four seasons in Japan all have their own distinctive character." This may sound cool but actually makes zero sense when you re-read it -- don't all four seasons have distinctive characters? I don't believe that Japanese people are inherently any more attuned to the changing of the seasons than people in other temperate countries. Rather, it's more like a self-fulfilling prophecy -- if you grow up reading statements like 'Japanese are nature-loving people' in a textbook, well, you're going to start paying attention to the flowers.
Here is an obligatory picture of cherry blossoms to represent the Japanese relationship with the four seasons.
Or, as someone I know put it, you'll always be aware of the changing seasons when your favourite product suddenly disappears from your local conbini shelves.
I've written about this elsewhere before, but there is a national obsession of sorts with gentei (限定, meaning limited edition). If you see the those characters on a product, you'd best believe it'll be gone faster than all the cherry blossoms can fall. Even if it doesn't have gentei written on it, if it isn't part of the usual line-up it probably isn't here to stay, so you'd best stock up if you like it.
Companies take advantage of the 'Japanese sense of seasonality' as a pretext to put out all kinds of gentei products and make sales -- for instance, weeks before the cherry blossoms even start budding, gentei sakura-flavoured products are already gracing conbini shelves. See how all this is quite circuitous? You are now aware that spring will soon be here.
Anyway, let's have a look at what's on the conbini shelves in Tokyo!
This begs the question: why would you eat a Snickers in Japan?
What I would’ve given to be at the meeting where they decided to call this ‘Crunky’...
There's still a hint of spring lingering, I suppose, with a few more matcha flavoured chocolates left in addition to the usual milks and darks.
But we're barreling towards summer right now, so bright, fresh, fruity flavours are in season -- think mint, strawberry, mango and the like. They'll be bringing out the Pepsi and watermelon sodas anytime now.
Why yes, I would love to 'feel mint' this June...
The DARS mint chocolates were surprisingly awesome -- I especially enjoyed the tiny mint chips in the mint chocolate filling, which added a nice crunch.
This tastes like the kind of toothpaste you wish you had (unlike the Haagen-Daaz limited edition creamy mint ice cream, which tasted terrible). Anyway, I have high expectations for the other DARS products, especially the biscuit version, since their chocolate tasted pretty good.
The passionfruit Kit Kat, which bills itself as having an "adult sweetness" (i.e. for suitably sophisticated people), was surprisingly delicious -- though the reactions around me have been a little mixed.
It’s difficult and rare to find more than one interesting seasonal Kit Kat flavour at a time in a single conbini -- you’re more or less forced to store-hop in order to catch them all (Pokemon!). Plus, it doesn’t even depend on whether it’s a Family Mart or a Lawson -- one Family Mart in Shinjuku might stock this Kit Kat, while the next Family Mart a few blocks down won’t.
Luckily, there are those who, bless them, dedicate their time and energy to seeking out and cataloguing the ludicrous range of Kit Kats Japan has to offer. I paid a visit to my friend James’ room to have a look at his modest but growing Kit Kat collection. As someone with a knack for seeking out the old, the quirky and the interesting, he's a hoarder in the best way possible -- nestled in among his film cameras, exhibition posters, figurines and various bric-a-brac were a small stack of Kit Kat packages.
The regional ones look pretty exciting -- wasabi, apple (from Aomori - where else?) and ichimi (single chili spice) to name a few.
These are the uncatalogued conbini Kit Kats.
Nestlé has released several variations on matcha -- the "adult flavour" ones were apparently great, the others less so.
In addition to showing me his collection, James very generously allowed me to photograph his scrapbook, which holds tremendous promise -- the beginnings of an annotated collection called The Japanese Art of the Kit Kat.
He also liked the cookies and cream Kit Kat, which to date I have only spotted in two Family Marts in Takadanobaba and Nippori.
I thought it was not as good as it sounded -- too much cream, not enough cookie and generally too sweet.
Do biscuits count as candy? I think so. Pocky and its ilk surely fall in some kind of biscuit-chocolate-candy genre -- it’s another one of those brands that has a constant trickle of funky flavours. Right now we’ve got some Rare Cheesecake Pocky on the shelves.
Who thought it was a good idea to call this ‘Collon’? Now I’m really interested.
This is the summer edition with a cookies and mint theme, which they’ve decided to call ‘Cooling Collon’. How… appetizing.
Lastly, in some Local Gendered Candy News, here are some "Man Plums".
*When not thinking about what to eat next, Furochan is thinking about what she last ate. A Malaysian student uprooted to Tokyo via London, she blogs at the adventures of furochan.
**Conbini Cabaret celebrates conbini culture, in preparation for the opening of U-MART on Tuesday 6/25. Umami for life! -KA