When in Japan, grab those Pocky and Kit Kats!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

I just returned from yet another trip to Japan last week. This time, we toured parts of Kyushu. Yup, the recently-hit-by-earthquakes Kyushu.
I had to make some last minute changes to the itinerary as a result. While I didn't fully enjoy myself, it was not because of the earthquakes and the resulting itinerary changes.
Instead, I was a sick cat during my entire 9 days in Kyushu. It really didn't help when we were caught in the rain on the first 2 days of our trip as well. In fact, I'm still recovering now and on my 3rd round of medications. Yeah, incredible right? 3rd round because I came back and got hit again by the flu superbug. (Hello immunity? What's up with you?)
Anyway, this time around, because I wasn't always feeling great, I really wasn't always in the mood to grab pictures. Even then, that's close to 2000 pictures. Just that in some places, the camera was stowed away. I'll share whatever I have (edited) still.
Yup, you've got it! Posts on Kyushu coming right up soon! Well, as soon as I sort through and edit whatever photos I've gotten. And mark my words, I'll be back for Kyushu again.
But for today's post, I'm just going to write about snacking in Japan. Haha. Yes, you read me right. Snacking in Japan deserves it's own post. Afterall, it's the land of amazing Pocky and Kit Kat flavours! And since I already brought up Pocky and Kit Kat, let's start with that first.

If you are not aware by now, Japan has an incredible number of flavours when it comes to Pocky and Kit Kat.

The chocolate and strawberry Pocky flavours that are easily available in Singapore, are also common in Japan. However, that's not what I'd get when I'm in Japan. There are several other flavours which are less common in Singapore such as milk, green tea/matcha and even cookies and cream. You'd probably be able to find some of these now in select supermarkets and convenience stores in Singapore. But during my initial trips to Japan, I used chow down regularly on their almond crush Pocky since it was much cheaper there in Japan than in Singapore.

However, nowadays I'll always be on the look out for the seasonal flavours that Pocky puts out. Pocky Japan puts out special flavours for each of the four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter. This round, we found out that the summer offerings were already on the shelves; chocolate-coconut and Brazilian orange.

The chocolate-coconut was the same as last year's and my mom is a huge fan of their summer chocolate-coconut flavour. You probably can't tell from my picture above, but that's a shot of a stacked 3 by 5 packs of chocolate-coconut Pocky. Yup, my mom hauled home 15 packs of those for her own personal consumption this round. I honestly think she would have bought more if she wasn't worried about the lack of luggage space.

The Brazilian orange offering though is an obvious marketing tie-in with the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympic Games. If you're headed to Japan now or soon, make sure you try this limited edition flavour. It combines (artificial) orange with chocolate. I have to admit, I didn't really like the first few taste, but the more sticks I bit into, the more addicted I got. It was the artificial orange that made it a bit weird at first, but I liked it well enough that I bought home 6 packs.

Yup, if you can't tell by now, my mom and I are huge fans of the chocolate-coated stick.


Ok, those of you who aren't headed to Japan now but in the near/distant future, you might wonder how to tell whether the packet you're holding is a seasonal offering or a limited edition flavour. The trick lies in looking for 4 Chinese characters. With these Pocky packs, it's usually on the top right hand corner of the box. I've circled it in blue in the photo above for your easy reference.

Now, let me help you decipher those 4 characters.
The 2 characters in the bottom row, 限定 (pronounced as xian ding) refers to it being a limited edition.
In the top row, the character on the right, 季 (pronounced as ji) is translated directly as season.
So the first character (top row, left) would then indicate which season it is:
春 - pronounced as chun, refers to spring

夏 - pronounced as xia, refers to summer

秋 - pronounced as qiu, refers to autumn

冬 - pronounced as dong, refers to winter.

Last year, we tried the Pocky summer offering (夏季限定) in Silicia Lemon, and that was pretty awesome too!

These Pocky packs usually retail at under 200 yen per pack, between 130 to 170 yen. I tend to pick them up whenever I dropped by any of their convenience stores (Lawsons, Family Mart or 7-11).


If that isn't confusing enough for those of you not familiar with these Chinese characters, Glico Japan (that's the company behind Pocky) also churns out these Giant Pocky sticks. Likewise, there's the common chocolates one, and then there's the special flavoured ones. This time round, the flavours are limited by areas, e.g. Kyushu region, Kyoto region, etc.

Again, how do you tell? If you take a look at the yellow Giant Pocky box in my photo above, I've again circled the characters in blue that you'll need to watch for. You'll see that there's 8 characters now, but its still 4 that you really need to understand:
Again, 限定 (xian ding) appears on the second row to denote that it is limited.

Now in the first row, 地区 (last 2 characters on first row, and pronounced as di qu) refers to area / region.
So whatever characters that come before it merely refers to the Chinese name of the area / region. In this case, 九州 (pronounced as jiu zhou) refers to Kyushu.

So, that yellow box of Giant Pocky I picked up is a Kyushu regional special flavour called Hiyoko Manju. The sticks are coated with chocolate flavoured with lima beans.
I honestly didn't know it was lima beans until I came back and googled. It tastes much better than what "chocolate flavoured with lima beans" would otherwise have evoked.

Each box of Giant Pocky usually contains between 16 to 18 individually wrapped giant sticks. They're pretty good to distribute out as gifts too.

By the way, Pretz also comes under the Glico company. No surprise then that it follows Pocky with their seasonal and regional flavours. That box of Giant Pretz is mentaiko flavoured. Mentaiko's a specialty in this region. I didn't expect to like the mentaiko Pretz so much though. Absolutely regrets just getting 1 box.

The smaller boxes of Pretz you see at the side are ramen flavoured. Now I gave away those and only kept a box for myself. I haven't gotten around to it yet though, so I'm clueless as to how it tastes like.

Now these regional specialities are less commonly found in convenience stores. Instead, I tend to pick them up at the gift stores or snack shops along major tourist attractions. Sometimes, these boxes are openly displayed such that it's hard to miss them. However, I've also noted that at times, they can be hidden in inconspicuous corners. The sort where you'll have to keep  your eyes peeled for them.

Now there's also Baton d'or, or what I personally term as expensive Pocky. (Had to crop them out of a photo, otherwise you might miss them). Now these are a class act. If you are a fan of Pocky, you'll definitely have to give this a try. The biscuit stick's yummier and I really enjoy the intense flavours of these Batons.

Let's just say that they're really good and I'll happily fork out the 500 yen (if memory serves me well) again for another box anytime.

Where to find them? You'll need to google for store locations, but Baton d'or stores are often found in those major departmental stores. You know, those huge departmental stores where the basement is a huge supermarket-and-food-store-galore? Yup, those types. I bought mine this time at the food basement of JR Hakata City, a huge mall in Fukuoka.

Gosh. This is proving to be a long post and I've only just gotten around to the Kit Kats. I think I'm going to break the snacking up into different posts!

Kit Kat also has flavours that are unique to Japan. In fact, I read somewhere that there's been more than 200 flavours that's been put out for Kit Kats! Milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate Kit Kats are now common in many Singapore supermarkets, etc. Even green tea/matcha Kit Kats are now becoming more easily available too. So please, don't waste time with these in Japan. Again, these are not the ones that you should be watching out for when in Japan.

Instead, check out their strawberry, strawberry cheesecake (shown in my picture above), sakura matcha flavours. Personally, I believe that these 3 flavours I've just listed appear to be the more common (read: easy to get) Japanese Kit Kat flavours. I've seen them pretty often at the shops at the Japan airports. Pretty easy to just grab them just before your flight home. I get requests for the strawberry Kit Kats pretty often if that's any indication of how yummy they are.

What's more difficult to locate are the regional specialties. Yup, Kit Kat flavours unique to a particular region. These are easily identified as Nestle kindly states them in English, e.g. Kyushu Edition, Kyoto Edition, Yokohama Edition. Otherwise, just look out for those circular stamps on the boxes. Or you can always google before you go as to what the regional specialty is. Yup, Google's your best friend!

Of course, if you see the 2 Chinese characters 限定 anywhere on the box, that usually also indicates that it is a limited edition.
In fact, anytime you see the characters 限定 or 期间限定 (pronounced as qi jian xian ding, and refers to a time limit), you know you have something that's limited edition on your hands. Trust me, Japan is the land of all limited edition flavours, from instant noodles, to potato chips, to (yeah) Kit Kats.

These regional Kit Kats are not always easy to find though. Again, your best bet to get them are at the gift shops and/or snack stores, especially those near major tourist attractions. The next best place would be at the airports but I've always had better luck with the stores near the attractions.  Likewise, they can be openly displayed or hidden in some corner. Just keep your eyes peeled.
In Kyoto, when I visited the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, the shopping street was just lined with snacks stores selling these Pockys and Kit Kats. No way you could miss them and I could even do a little bit of price comparison between stores!

A word of advice though, when you see them, grab them. Like I said, they're not always easy to find. My first time in Japan, I thought I'll come by the Tokyo edition Rum and Raisin again and failed to pick up that box when I first spied it. Ever since then, I've yet to lay eyes on another box of Rum and Raisin Kit Kat. It's the one flavour that's been bugging me for a long, long time now.

This time round, what I've managed to find are the Beni Imo (left in the photo above) and the Amaou Strawberry (obviously, the right one then in the photo above) flavours.
The Beni Imo flavour (also known as the purple sweet potato Kit Kat) is an Okinawa and Kyushu regional specialty. This one is seriously yummy. It's probably one of my favourite Kit Kat flavours and I've tried quite a few already.

In case you get confused, there's quite a few regional strawberry flavoured Kit Kat. The Amaou Strawberry one just happens to hail from Kyushu. This is another one which I haven't gotten around to getting it into the tummy. I can't tell you much about it yet but I doubt you can go too far off with strawberry.

Phew! An entire post dedicated to Pocky and Kit Kat. Wow. Never knew I could write that much about Pocky and Kit Kat. I had intended to include other stuff but I'm seriously too tired to continue. Please. Flu meds knock me out. It's pretty darn good that I've lasted this long (just close an eye to any grammatical or spelling errors k).  I'll get around to sharing what other good snacks to have while in Japan in the next post!


Hokkaido Chitose Airport

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Ok, here's a quick one as to what I consider some of the more awesome stuff at Chitose Airport. Yeah, I'm a little rushed for time but figured if I don't get this out today, I'll be really swamped over the next week and I definitely won't be able to write anything then
So anyway, there's plenty of things to do at Chitose Airport. It's one of those airports where I wouldn't mind getting to earlier to walk around, eat and shop. It almost feels like a giant shopping mall.
Of course, those of you who need to stock up or grab last minute gifts, Chitose Airport has loads of stuff. I usually try to avoid getting those at the airport though, since stuff like your Japanese snacks are often marked up at the airports. But the option is definitely there if you need to grab those.
At Chitose Airport, there are 2 food stops that I would recommend:
Cheese tarts.
There are a few brands at the Chitose Airport actually. However, there is only one where you can smell the tarts from corridors away. And it's the only one where I've seen queues. Seriously, just follow your nose and the queue.
Do note, the picture above is not the one that I've mentioned, but something that I wanted to try another time from Le Tao (which is pretty famous and from Otaru). I forget to get a picture of the actual store while I was there. I secretly think that the aroma of the cheese tarts just made me forget everything.
Buta Don.
Ok, this time, the picture is the actual store, and this is one of the best buta don I have ever eaten. It was recommended to me by a friend. I brought my parents this round, and since then, my mom has been hankering for a second taste of it.

There's also a Daiso (aka the 100 yen store) in Chitose Airport. To be honest, Daiso can be found all over Japan. In all my other Japan trips, I would always make it a point to visit at least one outlet every trip. Unfortunately, because we were on a group tour this round, I actually didn't get to visit any while on tour! So you can imagine how happy I was that there's one at the airport. Even though it was a small one, at the very least, I didn't have to break that record.
Fans of Calbee, don't miss out the Calbee showroom on the 4th floor of the Chitose Airport. Ok, even if you are not a fan, give it a try. I very much prefer the Calbee snacks in Japan and oftentimes, they have seasonal flavours that can hardly be found outside of Japan.
There's also a Calbee Plus on the west side of the airport, 2nd floor where you can get those yummy, lip-smacking good potato crisps fresh off the fryer! You can even add toppings like chocolate! Trust me, they're good.
There are many other cool places to visit at the Chitose Airport (and I plan to visit those the next time I'm there). For those with kids, you shouldn't miss out the Doraemon Waku Waku Sky Park on the 3rd floor of the airport. There's something for everyone in the family, from kids' play area, craft workshops, gift shops and even a café.
There's also a Royce Chocolate World at the Airport. Royce is one of my favourite Japanese chocolate brand. Everytime I come back from Japan, my mom despairs at the number of boxes of Royce chocolates I haul home. Despair? Because it's yummy but it triggers her migraine.
So those of you headed to Hokkaido Chitose Airport soon, do make sure you have some time to explore that mega shopping mall of an airport!
Tourist Information
Chitose Airport