As some of you will know, I’m a bit of a Kit Kat ‘otaku’ (obsessive fan). I even have a separate blog for Kit Kats (Kit Kats!), which was initially a page about Japanese Kit Kats on this blog but, when it grew too large, it became a blog about Kit Kats from all over the world (which is generally the UK and Japan, but other countries too when I get the chance to sample their wares).
So what’s so special about Japanese Kit Kats? Well, due to the fact that ‘Kit Kat’ in Japanese (キットカット / kitto katto) sounds like the phrase きっとかつ / kitto katsu, meaning ‘you will surely win’, Kit Kats have become pretty popular in Japan. Apparently it started out with mothers putting Kit Kats in their children’s lunch boxes to wish them luck with exams, but at some point Nestle got a hold of the idea and marketed the hell out of it. Now there are Kit Kats for just about every region of Japan, seasonal flavours, special packs you can post, and all sorts of other items.
Earlier this year I became aware of a new Kit Kat collection which seemed to be the holy grail of Japanese Kit Kats: the Japanese Kit Kats – Regional Collection (日本国キットカット味遊記) – a special pack containing 15 different flavours from around Japan. To be honest, I had tried all but two of the flavours, but it was the packaging which had caught my attention. I had never seen something so beautiful… and I had to have it!
Luckily, one of my Japanese friends came to my aid, and we managed to come to an arrangement because she wanted something in exchange from the UK. I will be eternally grateful to her – ありがとう！
So, without further ado, here it is…
It comes in a red box:
There’s a mixture of English and Japanese on the box, and it’s clearly aiming to appeal to tourists and the foreign market with this huge ‘made in Japan’ on the box:
The box has a graphic explaining that it is designed like an advent calendar with 15 windows. Behind each window you’ll find two Kit Kats.
Taking the sticker off the front to open it up felt somehow wrong – I almost wanted to keep it preserved forever!
On the back of the box, all of the flavours are listed. It’s worth noting that the English on the box is simplified and, if you can read Japanese, you’ll find out more about the Kit Kats and the regions they’re from. I wish I could read more Japanese, but there’s a lot of complicated kanji on the box. Still, I’ve done my best to translate the flavours as accurately as I can later on in this post.
When you open up the red flaps at the front of the box, you are greeted with this utterly gorgeous map of Japan:
All of the region names are written on the blue fans, and dotted all over the map are images to illustrate the famous landmarks of the different areas, as well as amusing characters.
One thing that really struck me was the type of design used – it seems to be based on Japanese folding screens, and the gold clouds around the edges reminded me in particular of the talk I went to recently about the stage design for the play Anjin. The director of the play had also been inspired by these gold clouds on folding screens.
So, let’s look at the 15 regional flavours:
ずんだ(Edamame-Soybean) Kit Kat from東北(Tohoku)
This one tastes quite ‘beany’, and is certainly a unique flavour. I hadn’t heard of ‘zunda’ before I first came across this Kit Kat, but basically it is mashed up, unroasted, sweetened soy beans. Apparently it’s as popular in the Tohoku region as red bean paste (anko) is in Nagoya.
ル レクチエ(Le Lectier Pear) Kit Kat from新潟(Niigata)
This was one of the new ones for me, and I quite liked it (although it’s not in my top 10). It’s quite sweet, and has a very distinct whiff of pear about it. I hadn’t heard of Le Lectier pears before, so I Googled and discovered that they were imported from France to Niigata Prefecture, Japan, in the early 20th century, and have been associated with the region ever since.
ブルーベリー チーズケーキ (Blueberry Cheesecake) Kit Kat from上・甲信越(Joestu-Koushinsetsu)
This is such a good flavour for a Kit Kat! I’ll always remember the first time I tried these ones, when a student gave them to me as a present after a trip to Nagano.
信州りんご(Shinshu Apple) Kit Kat from信州 (Shinshu)
‘Shinshu’ is actually one of the old names for what we now think of as ‘Nagano Prefecture’. However, the name has been kept when referring to the apples from that region.
八幡屋礒五郎一味(Yawataya Isogoro Ichimi – Hot Japanese Chili) Kit Kat from信州 (Shinshu)
I love chili chocolate, and this is probably one of my favourite Kit Kats. I always thought it was just ‘Ichimi Kit Kat’ but, when I looked at the name more closely today I noticed that it is actually ‘Yawataya Isogoro Ichimi’. I searched for ‘Yawataya Isogoro‘ to find out what it was, and it seems to be a company which produces and sells Japanese chilis and spices.
榮太樓黒みつ(Eitaro kuro mitsu – black honey/syrup) Kit Kat from東京 (Tokyo)
This is one of the very ‘Japanese’ flavours in the box, and I always find it hard to explain to people what ‘kuro mitsu’ is. It could be likened to treacle, but it’s runnier, and I think tastier too.
ストロベリー チーズケーキ(Strawberry Cheesecake) Kit Kat from横浜 (Yokohama)
Strawberry cheesecake seems like quite a standard flavour compared to some of the others, but it’s still miles better than anything we can get in the UK.
田丸屋本店わさび(Tamaru ya Wasabi) Kit Kat from静岡・関東 (Shizuoka-Kanto)
Ah… wasabi. This is one of the Kit Kats that gets Japan its name for producing ‘weird food’. However, most people accept chili chocolate nowadays, so what’s so different? Wasabi chocolate (if you like wasabi of course!) is really tasty – give it a try!
Incidentally, this wasabi Kit Kat is labelled with ‘Tamaru ya‘, which seems to be the name of a a wasabi producing company.
あずきサンド (Red Bean Sandwich) Kit Kat from東海・北陸 (Tokai-Hokuriku)
Red bean sandwiches make me feel nostalgic about Nagoya, as they’re popular there. I couldn’t even tell you how many of these particular Kit Kats I’ve eaten in the past! Oops.
聖護院八ッ橋(Shogoin Yatsuhashi – Cinnamon Cookie) Kit Kat from京都 (Kyoto)
This Shogoin Yatsuhashi Kit Kat was the one I was really waiting for – a truly Japanese flavour which I had never had the chance to try before. Anyone who has ever visited Kyoto should know what ‘yatsuhashi’ is – it’s the most popular traditional food souvenir, which tastes of cinnamon. In the picture above, you can see these wafer-like things – they’re yatsuhashi. Yatsuhashi, named after a Japanese musician called Kengyo Yatsuhashi in 1689, used to be sold on the approach to a temple called Shogoin, and got the nickname ‘Shogoin Yatsuhashi’.
These Kit Kats have broken-up yatsuhashi inside the white chocolate, and they are divine! Worth taking a trip to Japan for, I think! ;)
伊藤久右衛門抹茶(Itokyuemon Matcha – Green Tea) Kit Kat from 京都 (Kyoto)
Matcha – green tea – Kit Kat is the classic Japanese Kit Kat now, and even that comes in different varieties. This one, like the hojicha one below, is labelled ‘Itokyuemon‘, which seems to be the name of a tea shop or company in Uji City, Kyoto.
伊藤久右衛門ほうじ茶(Itokyuemon Hojicha – Roasted Tea) Kit Kat from 京都 (Kyoto)
Just like the matcha Kit Kat above, this hojicha Kit Kat is a classic from Kyoto.
柑橘黄金ブレンド(Kankitsu Ogon Blend – Citrus Golden Blend) Kit Kat from中国・四国(Chugoku-Shikoku)
These citrus Kit Kats are really fruity and zingy, and I’m sure they’d sell well in the UK if only someone would try.
あまおう苺(Amaou Strawberry) Kit Kat from九州 (Kyushu)
You can’t beat a strawberry Kit Kat – the chocolate is pink and it smells like bubblegum. Amaou, by the way, is the name of a place in Fukuoka where strawberries are produced.
紅いも(Beni Imo – Purple Sweet Potato) Kit Kat from沖縄・九州 (Okinawa-Kyushu)
Beni imo – purple sweet potato – is a classic Okinawan flavour and, although it might look a bit strange, I highly recommend giving this purple Kit Kat a try!
The box happily declares, ‘Enjoy Japanese unique Kit Kat flavours!’…
If you get the chance, do try some! I’m sure there must be a flavour suitable for everyone, and the 15 flavours listed above only just scratch the surface of what is actually available if you travel around Japan.