They are easy to eat, come in many different types, and flavors. Search the internet you can find pages and pages of influencers trying all kinds of Japanese snacks. While Japanese snacks have gained popularity all over the world, dagashi (駄菓子) remain popular among local Japanese people. These traditional snacks can be found all over the country in local shops and convenience stores. But what exactly is the difference between candy, snack, and dagashi? In this article we’ll give you some insight on Japanese snack culture and why dagashi remain so popular in Japan.
In the west the term snack usually refers to salty or savory small portion food eaten between meals like chips, crackers or nuts. However in Japan the term snack can refer to salty, savory, and sweet small portion food. Candy, chocolate, crackers, and chips are all considered snacks.
Dagashi are cheap candies and snacks that are similar to the confectionary American “penny candy”, they are very low price costing no more than 50 yen. The word dagashi means “low-grade snack”. It comes from the Japanese words “da” meaning futile or negligible and “kashi” meaning snacks. These traditional snacks have been around since the Edo period (1603-1867) and reached peak popularity during the Showa period (1929-1989). Traditional dagashi were made with cheap corn and syrup instead of white sugar because it was more expensive and difficult to obtain. In order to differentiate between the snacks shop owners came up with a different word for them.
Dagashi were usually sold in snack stores called dagashiya (駄菓子屋), which were popular during the Showa period, when young people used them as hangout sports. Places with a local shopping district called a shotengai (商店街) have many dagashiyas which are usually small family owned businesses. The oldest dagashiya Kamikawaguchiya was founded in early 1781. The shop has been passed down through the same family for 13 generations. It is located near Zoshigaya Kishimojin temple in Toshima, Tokyo and is a delight for people to visit. Dagashiyas are a great place to visit while traveling through Japan to get a feel of traditional Japanese culture. Many of the stores don’t have websites or staff who speak English so be mindful of your speech and body language while shopping.
There are many types of dagashi including candy, ricker crackers, and cakes. There are traditional dagashi snacks which are enjoyed during events like a Japanese tea ceremony while others are meant to be eaten anytime. Let’s look at a few popular ones below.
Now let’s take a look at some of the most popular dagashi which can be found at any dagashiya in Japan. There are many types of classic dagashi including fruit flavored candy, rice crackers, corn snacks and ramune.
Litterally meaning “delicious stick” umaibo are the most recognizable dagashi due to them often being wrapped in fun packaging. They usually have popular characters on the packaging such as Doraemon or Anpanman making them very popular with small children. The main flavors of umaibo are mentaiko- cod roe, cheese, corn potage, and natto. However there are a variety of fun flavors available including pizza, curry, and mayonnaise.
These little bite sized candies are made entirely of sugar. They can easily be mistaken as small toys due to their bright colors but they’re completely edible. Konpeito were first introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in 1569. They were rare to find since sugar was expensive, but now they can be easily found at local dagashiyas and convenience stores. They’re often used for celebrations and are given as offerings to shrines.
3. Senbei and Okoshi
Japanese rice crackers are some of the most popular dagashi snacks available. Senbei are thin rice crackers about the size of a cookie. They come in many flavors like plain, soy sauce, and even sugar. Okoshi are small puffed rice crackers which come in small packets and are sweeter than senbei.
4. Ramune candy
Ramune is a unique Japanese flavor that tastes similar to a mildly citrus bubble gum. The ramune candy consists of potato starch, dextrose and citric acid. These individually wrapped candies have a chalky texture but melt and your mouth and leave you with refreshing cool feelings.
If you’re looking to try dagashi, dagashiyas are the perfect place to visit. Visiting an area with an older shopping street you’ll likely find a local dagashiya nearby. However if you can’t find a small town dagashiya you can always visit a nearby convenience stores or purchase one of our nice TokyoTreat boxes.
Have you tried any dagashi snacks before? If so, what did you enjoy? If not, what would you like to try?
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