The Japanese KitKat Phenomenon

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Can a chocolate bar make it 'big in Japan'? Absolutely! In fact, the story of the KitKat might just be one of the most successful Japanese reinvention stories of all time. This week, we present the story of KitKat in Japan as well as three fantastic new arrivals available from TOKYO MATCHA SELECTION.

The Perfect Snack for Work and… Wordplay?

A British snack dating back to the 1930s, the original KitKat chocolate wafer bar has barely altered in form since its creation. The familiar slogan 'Have a break, have a KitKat', which has been in use since 1958, reflects the simple pleasure of breaking apart those chocolatey fingers and forgetting about office life - if just for a minute.

While it's often observed that the Japanese could do with a break from work, it was a different phrase which eventually caused the KitKat's popularity in Japan to skyrocket. In the 2000s, a highly successful advertising campaign played up the bar's potential as a good luck charm for exams. How? By exploiting an accidental pun in Japanese.

As many Japanese chocoholics have noticed, the brand name KitKat - pronounced キットカット(kittokatto) in Japanese - sounds quite similar to the phrase, きっと勝つ (kitto katsu). Fortuitously, this translates as, 'You'll surely win'! Such earnest words of encouragement seem designed to lift the spirits - and it works, because Japanese food culture is full of similar wordplay. For example, fried cutlets or 'katsu' are also enjoyed during exam season for their homophony with the verb 'to win', while kombu seaweed is eaten at New Year because it sounds like 喜ぶ (yorokobu), meaning 'to become happy'.

Regional Differences

Besides wordplay, the KitKat has become associated with another Japanese obsession: 'omiyage'. This custom of bringing back gifts for your friends and colleagues whenever you travel is considered fun by some and a little burdensome by others. Nobody can deny, however, that it has sustained a wildly diverse domestic souvenir market. Like other snacks, KitKat has jumped on the omiyage bandwagon by producing hundreds of limited edition flavours that are only available in Japan. In doing so, this generations-old product has become arguably one of most shareable and collectable snack bars in existence. Thanks to its miniature size and endless variety, the Japanese KitKat stands out as a fun and convenient way to share seasonal and regional flavours from all over the country.

New KitKat Arrivals for 2018

At TOKYO MATCHA SELECTION we get very excited about new teatime treats. Here are three of the latest Japanese KitKat variations for 2018 that we're sure you'll enjoy.

Iyokan KitKat

The iyokan is a Japanese citrus fruit, similar to a mandarin. An iconic product of Ehime prefecture, on Shikoku island, the iyokan has a strong scent comparable to that of a grapefruit or bitter orange. Fun fact: because the words 'pentagonal iyokan' 五角伊予柑 (gokaku iyokan) sound like 'good feeling about passing an exam' 合格いい予感 (gougaku ii yokan), farmers in Ehime have recently developed five-sided iyokan to bring good fortune to school exam-takers. While the combination of crispy KitKat wafer and tangy iyokan might not double your luck, it will 'surely win' the affections of any citrus-lover.
KitKat Mini Iyokan Citrus flavor 14 packages

Amazake KitKat

Amazake is a Japanese hot drink made with fermented rice. Literally meaning 'sweet sake', it is prepared using the same special mould (koji) that is responsible for sake and miso, although it is not typically alcoholic. Amazake owes its deliciousness to the natural sugars that are released when rice starch is broken down by koji enzymes. Thick, sweet and creamy amazake is traditionally enjoyed during cold weather and particularly around New Year. Because it's very nutritious, it's also considered excellent for hangovers! If you live outside Japan, you'll no doubt find the Amazake KitKat an unusual winter treat.

KitKat mini Amazake sweet sake flavor 11 pieces
KitKat mini Amazake sweet sake flavor 11 pieces

Tokyo Banana x KitKat

This choco-banana wafer is the result of a collaboration between KitKat and Tokyo Banana, one of Japan's most iconic souvenir confections. At first glance, this new bar looks almost just like a classic chocolate-coated KitKat. However, closer inspection reveals two unique touches. Not only are the two fingers joined at one end to imitate two bananas, but they each contain layers of delicious banana cream, just like the original Tokyo Banana sponge cake!

KitKat TOKYO BANANA flavor 15 packages in box
KitKat TOKYO BANANA flavor 15 packages in box

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