One day, before our family’s recent trip to Japan, my husband excitedly told me about something we just had to do in Tokyo. To my surprise, he said we had to eat Kit Kat chocolates.
As an American, born and raised in Chicago, I’ve enjoyed many of the chocolate-covered wafer "fingers" over the years. For me, they’ve always been stocked on convenience store shelves, given out on Halloween, and happily shared at the movie theatre. So, of course, I thought he was kidding. But, he most certainly was not - and rightly so.
There’s nothing like a Japanese Kit Kat
Kit Kat chocolates aren’t only sold in the U.S. The chocolates are sold in more than 70 countries around the world. According to Nestle, the maker of the popular chocolates, 650 Kit Kat fingers are consumed every second worldwide.
But, the chocolates aren’t just any old Kit Kats in Japan.
Kit Kat has been the country’s favorite chocolate since 2012. And, across Japan, you can enjoy the chocolates in flavors unique to the country.
While we were in Tokyo, we sampled Green Tea, Sakura Cherry Blossom Green Tea, Strawberry Cheesecake, Dark Chocolate, and Red Chili – to name a few.
Often, wherever Kit Kat chocolates are sold in Japan, lines of people anxious to buy the newly available flavors are right there, too.
So what caused Kit Kat chocolates to be so popular in Japan? It all comes down to the product’s name – and some ingenious marketing.
Nothing was “lost in translation” with this chocolate
In the 1970s, Nestle struck an agreement with Fujiya, a Japanese confectionary company, to sell Kit Kat chocolates in Japan. (Nestle later bought out Fujiya’s share of Kit Kat in Japan in 2000.) But, the chocolate’s rise to a cult-like status came after Nestle discovered that “Kit Kat” can be translated as Kitto Katsu – or “surely win” – in Japanese.
According to Advertising Age, Nestle saw this translation as an opportunity to tie Kit Kats (or Kitto Katsu) with the Japanese tradition of sending students good luck wishes before their higher-education entrance exams. Seizing on the potential marketing opportunity, Nestle partnered with Japan’s postal service to create “Kit Kat Mail” – a good luck mailer that could be sent to students, furiously studying for their exams.
After having visited the small store located near the Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, I can clearly see the popularity of good luck charms. The store sells a wide array of the charms, with many of them said to bring wisdom and good test scores. So, I can see how students would relish the gift of a “surely win” token – especially from their proud parents.
Of course, the fact that the good luck charm is edible doesn’t hurt either.
Limited edition, locally sourced flavors help fuel Kit Kat’s popularity
As savvy marketers are apt to do, Nestle didn’t just offer the milk chocolate Kit Kat variety common in the U.S. (sold here through an agreement with The Hershey Company). Instead, the company produced unique varieties that reflect the local produce of the region and the tastes of the people who live there.
According to Nestle, each Japanese Kit Kat variety is sold in the region for which it was created. And, the varieties are only available for purchase for a limited time.
This makes it all the more important for residents and visitors to snatch up regional varieties while they can – and even purchase additional quantities to share with family, friends and visiting guests.
During our spring visit to Japan, our local grocery store (in the Nakano district) stocked big bags of green tea and strawberry cheesecake-flavored Kit Kat chocolates. But, we needed and wanted to try more – especially since we didn’t have the luxury of traveling to ever region of Japan.
First Kit Kat boutique opened in Tokyo earlier this year
My family and I took it upon ourselves to try to spot and sample as many Kit Kat varieties as possible during our time in Tokyo. That is how we ended up at the newly opened Kit Kat Chocolatory.
We had planned to spend some time in Ikebukuro, a Tokyo district known as one of the city's centers for Otaku (anime and manga fans) culture. But, once we learned that the Kit Kat Chocolatory was located there, it quickly moved up to the top of our “must visit” list.
The Kit Kat Chocolatory is located at the base of the Seibu department store – a short walk from Ikebukuro Station. The small boutique features a counter laden with boxes and boxes of a few exclusive varieties of Kit Kat chocolates produced by Nestle in collaboration with Japanese chocolatier Takagi.
When we were there, the boutique was selling three varieties of Kit Kat chocolates: Green Tea, Cream Cheese and Special Chili. Each one was delicious. But, my favorite one has to be the Special Chili chocolate that got you at the back of your palate with just enough heat at the very end.
Needless to say, we were glad to have found the Kit Kat Chocolatory and could add a few more Kit Kat varieties to our running list of the ones we were able to sample during our stay in Japan.
Kit Kat chocolates are a popular Japanese souvenir
At the end of our trip, we were sad to bid farewell to Tokyo – and to have to end our Kit Kat sampling adventures. But, little did we know that even more Kit Kat chocolates awaited us at Narita airport.
As we waited to board our plane home, we browsed in several airport stores - and we were delighted to sample even more Kit Kat chocolates. At Narita, we got our first glimpse of Wasabi, Azuki Red Bean, and Sakura Green Tea-flavored Kit Kat chocolates – all sold in boxes perfect to take home as souvenirs for friends, families or just yourself.
As I waited for my husband and sons to purchase drinks for our flight, I watched savvy travelers gracefully packed box after box of Kit Kat chocolates in their carryon bags.
My only regret is that I didn’t have a spare carryon bag to load up with Kit Kats. It’s now an important tip I’ll have to share with any other visitors heading to Tokyo.
Have you tried one of the Kit Kat varieties that are unique to Japan? If so, which one is your favorite? Are there any particular Kit Kat varieties that you’re anxious to try? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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