Friday, December 26, 2008

Nihonjin Nibbles: Halloween KitKat

Fig. 1: Halloween Theme KitKat

The first item up for review is a Halloween Theme Kit-Kat. The first striking thing is the packaging. It is bright and colorful in a blue, orange and yellow themed wrapper and has some of the typical accoutrements that we Americans associate with Halloween…bats, witch’s hats, ghosts, the moon, stars and houses.

Halloween seems to be a relatively appropriate holiday for the Japanese. Not the candy beggars, ghouls and goblins mind you, but the innate spirituality. The Japanese seem to be a deeply spiritual people, as evidenced by the large number of temples and the regular visits of people offering prayers to their ancestors. Of course, I'm in it for the candy.

I was shocked upon opening the small package…the smell was overwhelmingly wonderful! As I sat at my desk jotting down my thoughts, the candy was sitting in front of me with the corner torn off. I could smell the candy in the next room. I cannot quite place the odor, kind of nutty and vanilla-ly, with a hint of oats. When you open a standard-issue American Kit-Kat, there is no smell. Well…either that, or I am just used to it.

Fig. 2: A Sharpie (top), a standard American two-bar
KitKat (middle), the Japanese KitKat (bottom).

In a size comparison, this Japanese Kit-Kat is smaller lengthwise, but the same width and thickness. (The aroma is still lingering and I am getting anxious to eat it already!!)

The flavor is unusual but pleasant, the wafers appear to be standard issue Kit-Kat, but the filling is a light tan color. The chocolate is creamy and smooth and has a good flavor in and of itself.

Fig. 3: The interior of the Japanese KitKat.

This KitKat was far and away more appealing than the standard-issue American KitKat. The aroma was intoxicating, the chocolate significantly creamier and it was more flavorful overall. I am still trying to place the flavor, though, as it is completely different than what I'm used to.

I figured that a Japanese KitKat would be different but not this significantly different. I certainly wish that our KitKats were like this.

The standard-issue American KitKat garners a 7/10 on the completely unscientific scale of tastiness. I give the Halloween edition Japanese KitKat a 9/10!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Care Package from the Land of the Rising Sun

Japan: the Land of the Rising Sun, home of Japanese people, ninjas, sushi, good cars, lasers, robots, five million varieties of KitKats and VCRs. I love Japan and the idea of Japan. It has this mystery and alien-ness to it that I find so appealing. I can't quite put my finger on why; I'm not particularly fond of anime, but I love me some sushi; I could never quite bring myself to buy a Japanese car, but I love all things Sony. Perhaps it is the capsule hotels, vending machines selling everything from beer to used ladies drawers or the fact that there are no actual street addresses.

I had (and probably still have, actually) a jaded view of Japan. You know, the view of someone on the outside looking in at the sanitized, all-good-things view that we gaijin get. My views started when I was young, back in the '80s they would run the James Clavell mini-series 'Shogun' on the telly. It completely absorbed me. The epicness and beauty of feudal Japan just sucked me in and never let go. I knew then that I had to learn all that I could about the place, so far away from me ... not only in terms of distance but also what I'm used to in general, everyday living activites.

Yes, my perspective was one that was typical for those that have never been to Japan. An ideal, utopian society with no crime, all high-tech, robots everywhere serving every need, friendly people, green grass, cherry trees that bloom on cue, samurai walking the streets, flying cars, etc.

Unfortunately, as I have learned over the years, the grass is not greener on the other side of the pond. Japan does indeed have its share of problems. I have long been a follower of the always lovely Orchid and her blog The Monster Flower, on which she has a unique perspective on Japan, having lived there for almost two decades. If you are at all interested in Japan, I implore you to visit her blog to get all the details on what it is really like for a foreigner in Japan.

Sure some of the things that go on to foreigners in Japan isn't nice. You're cool and an outcast all at the same time. Sometimes older people go out of their way to be supremely passive-aggressive towards you just because they can. The police are apathetic and nearly always assume the gaijin is at fault.

But for all the things that are part and parcel of the reality of Japan, both good and bad, I still want to visit there. I am hoping to make a trip in 2010 or 2011, and to that end I have purchased some Japanese language learning books and a number of travel guides. I hope to take a week, maybe two, to enjoy the sights, the temples, the nightlife (not the naughty nightlife, mind you!). I want to stay in a capsule hotel, sample an onsen, eat real ramen and weird sushi, visit all the Akihabara electronics stores, ride the shinkansen, and just take in how life operates in such an unusual culture.


The always lovely Orchid and her CH sent me a package of delectable delights from Japan. Orchid runs another wonderful blog, Japanese Snack Reviews, which she guinea pigs her American point-of-view on some of Japan's typically unusual junk food selections.

She gave me explicit instructions that I was to blog about my experiences with the goodies, and I will make good on that!

Fig. 1: The package on my cluttered dining room table.

I was very pleased and more than excited to see the box from Japan. How exciting it was to delve in to all the precious goodies waiting inside, so many alien wonders to behold!

Fig. 2: All the wonderful goodies from Japan!

As Orchid pointed out in one of her entries, the Japanese have a fondness for using English in their product naming. As you can see, many of the items have English names. The most amusing one is the "Crunky" candybars in the foreground. What immediately came to mind is the word, if you can call it that, 'crunk'. According to some of the definitions in "The Urban Dictionary", crunk is to 'get crazy and drunk' or a type of dirty southern rap. Bizarre.

What is particularly interesting about the state of Japanese junk food is the proliferation of variety in KitKats. According to Wikipedia, Japan has had no less than 25 special varieties of KitKats in flavors ranging from 'Caramel and Salt' to 'Green Tea' to 'Soy Sauce'!

As an extra special bonus, Orchid and the CH sent along a beautiful set of chopsticks...

Fig 3: Japanese chopsticks.

This was a great package of stuff, and I intend to review every one of the goodies that was tucked inside. I am going to get impressions, too, from family and friends on the goodies in order to share the adventure. I have already consumed one of the individual KitKats in the picture, so my review of that will be coming up soon.

To Orchid and the CH: thank you very kindly for the package! It made a wonderful early Christmas gift! I hope that my reviews of the goodies will be up to par with your in depth reviews on your JSR blog. I am intending on boxing up a few special, indigenous goodies from around where I live and send them off your way early in January, so be expecting them! :)