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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogMeiji Chocolate and More: A History in Japan

Meiji Chocolate and More: A History in Japan

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
January 11, 2024
Modified Time
Updated last 
January 19, 2024
Meiji chocolate hearts, including one lone red heart in the middle.

Explore the rich history of chocolate in Japan through iconic brands like Meiji, Morinaga, Royce, Glico, and even Lindt. From introducing chocolate as a luxurious import to its evolution into affordable and innovative snacks, these confectionaries have significantly shaped Japan’s chocolate culture!

Why is chocolate important in Japan?

Companies like Meiji Chocolate helped shape the chocolate culture in Japan by producing affordable chocolate snacks for everyone. During the Edo period, chocolate first arrived as a drink from Dutch merchants but failed to gain popularity. After Japan’s isolation ended, Western sweets became available in places with non-Japanese settlements. However, chocolate remained an expensive import for foreign residents or wealthy Japanese.

Japanese chocolate snacks  in a cup and a bowl.
Chocolate became popular in Japan in the early 20th century.

In the 1920s, Japanese companies introduced factory-made chocolate snacks as nutritious energy providers, leading to a decline in wagashi sweets. After World War II, American soldiers often gave chocolate to local children. This helped chocolate become more popular and influenced Japanese makers in packaging and flavors! Let’s take a closer look at these fantastic chocolate makers from Japan!

Meiji Chocolate

The Meiji Group is one of Japan’s oldest chocolate makers. Initially focusing on Western confectioneries and dairy goods, the company met changing consumer tastes.

In the 1920s, Meiji played a role in introducing chocolate to Japan, importing machinery from Germany, and releasing Meiji Milk Chocolate in 1926, which became a favorite. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Meiji expanded its confectionery offerings, adapting to diverse consumer preferences.

A bar of Meiji Chocolate.
Meiji Chocolate was initially founded in 1936. Image via Shutterstock

Meiji’s iconic Meiji Milk Chocolate, a flagship brand for almost a century, remains popular with its classic bar and diverse flavors. Meiji’s The Chocolate Line takes people on a global chocolate tour with flavors from various regions.

Meanwhile, using Japanese design like the Yamato Ratio for a visually pleasing chocolate treat. With products like Almond Chocolate, Kinoko no Yama, and Meltykiss, Meiji continues to provide a delightful range of chocolate experiences!

Are you interested in some amazing chocolate? Check out TokyoTreat! TokyoTreat delivers limited-edition Japanese noodles, snacks, drinks, and sweets right to your door so you can enjoy the latest Christmas treats directly from Japan!

Morinaga

In 1918, Morinaga transformed chocolate production in Japan by introducing large-scale chocolate-making equipment and recruiting experts from abroad. Morinaga became the first Japanese company to manufacture and sell made-in-Japan chocolate, making it more accessible. Morinaga continued to innovate, launching a media campaign pairing chocolate gift-giving with Valentine’s Day in 1960, helping launch Valentine’s Day as a tradition in Japan.

A box of Morinaga Dars Matcha Chocolate.
DARS chocolate is one of Morinaga’s most famous snacks. Image via Shutterstock

Morinaga’s commitment to innovation extended to the development of Carré-de-Chocolat in 2003 and the introduction of BAKE baked chocolate in 2003, a product with unique texture and resistance to melting even in summer! In 2014, Morinaga opened a limited-time shop to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hi-Crown Chocolate! Throughout its history, Morinaga has been a leader in chocolate making and actively engaged in popularizing chocolate in Japan.

Royce 

Founded in Sapporo in 1983, Royce has become a globally recognized brand for its world-class chocolate produced in Hokkaido. The company sources high-quality ingredients, which is the reason for its success.

Royce gained attention through a mail order system, taking telephone orders from customers outside Hokkaido. Eventually, the company has introduced various chocolate products, showing their expertise and commitment to exquisite taste.

The outside entrance of Royce Chocolate World.
Royce Chocolate is from Hokkaido! Image via Shutterstock

Royce has expanded its chocolate offerings, introducing products like the Potatochip Chocolate and Chocolate Wafers. Moreover, royce is known for its Nama Chocolates, which combine selected chocolate, fresh cream, and liqueurs (with non-alcoholic versions available).

The Nama Chocolate series includes flavors like Bitter, White, and Matcha, offering a smooth, melt-in-the-mouth experience. With a commitment to world-class chocolate, Royce continues to delight chocolate lovers!

Glico

Glico was founded in 1922 by Mr. Ri-ichi Ezaki. Ezaki’s discovery of glycogen in oyster broth led to the creation of “Glico Caramel,” setting Glico’s goal of improving health through food. Despite challenges during World War II, Glico survived, rebuilding and introducing popular products like Bisco, PRETZ, Giant Cone, and Pocky in the post-war era. The company continued to evolve, introducing desserts like Putchin Pudding, Café au Lait, Panapp, and Seventeen Ice.

Whole wheat Glico Pocky.chocolate snacks.
Pocky is Glico’s standout snack! Image via Shutterstock

Their most famous product, Pocky, comes in various delicious flavors, each with a unique taste. The classic Pocky Chocolate features a pretzel stick with a crispy texture coated in rich chocolate. Pocky Cacao 60% is made with dark chocolate on a whole-grain pretzel for those craving bitter chocolate. Other options include Crunchy Strawberry, Almond Crush with roasted almonds, and the luxurious Milk Chocolat, made with fermented butter and extra chocolate!

Lindt Chocolate

While not a Japanese maker, Swiss chocolate brand Lindt is making its mark on Japan’s confectionery scene, using traditional Japanese flavors for exclusive Japan-only products. During Sakura season, Lindt debuted “Sakura Lindor,” a limited-edition chocolate featuring a cherry-flavored filling encased in a white chocolate shell infused with strawberry powder. The Sakura Lindor is only available in Japan during select periods.

A bunch of Lindt chocolate .
Lindt is one of the most famous international chocolate brands in Japan! Image via Shutterstock

Lindt also released two Délice macarons and a Sakura Caramelize Chocolat Drink. The Délice Sakura macaron included cherry puree, white chocolate ganache glaze, and sakura syrup, while the Délice Sakura Leaf used sakura leaves in the ganache. The Sakura Caramelize Chocolat Drink featured a white chocolate base with cherries, caramel flakes, and cherry blossom-shaped chocolate. These creations show Lindt’s respect for Japan’s culture and seasons.

Japanese chocolates are represented by iconic brands like Meiji, Morinaga, Royce, and Glico, each contributing to the evolution of Japan’s chocolate culture. These chocolate makers have played a significant role in shaping the world of Japanese chocolates! Have you ever tried any of these Japanese chocolates? Which ones did you like? Let us know in the comments below!

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