Cheap candies and snacks in fun and colorful single-serve packaging, Dagashi is the stuff of their childhoods for the Japanese. They usually cost less than ¥100 and could be anything sweet from hard candy, gum, and chocolates to unique snacks such as dried seafood and preserved fruit. These treats have been delighting the masses since the Edo Period, but the Dagashi as we know today peaked after World War II and was marketed mainly to children who only have small change as pocket money to school.
While Dagashi has never left its place in Japanese pop culture, there has been a renewed interest for it with the recent release of the anime Dagashi Kashi where different kinds of Dagashi are integrated into the storyline.
Dagashi Kashi’s Website: http://www.tbs.co.jp/anime/dagashi (Japanese only)
Where to find Dagashi
Nowadays, people typically buy Dagashi in supermarkets and convenience stores. However, in the past, there are special stores for them called Dagashiya. Aside from cheap treats, these establishments also often sell toys and other knick-knacks, and some even have arcade-style games inside. They are not as abundant now as they used to be, but there are still a few of these places in Tokyo in case you’re in the mood for some nostalgia.
Daiba Itchome Shotengai (Odaiba)
In the same building as the Sega Joypolis in Odaiba, you can find a whole floor of a re-created old Japanese town. Daiba Itchome Shotengai is on the fourth floor of Decks Tokyo Beach Mall and as soon as you set foot on this shopping street, the futuristic vibe Odaiba is mostly known for completely disappears.
For Dagashi shopping, there is Edoya. It’s a shop brimming with exciting goodies that you will surely feel like a kid again. With bags of candy and snack in tow, proceed next to the arcade section. Here, you’ll find rows of classic arcade games like pinball machines, shooting galleries, and many other old school stuff.
Website: http://www.odaiba-decks.com (Japanese only)
It’s a candy and snack heaven but for adults. Tokyo’s Dagashi Bar is a chain of Showa Period-themed hangout spots where you can eat as many Dagashi items you want for just ¥500. If you feel like munching on unlimited junk food while chatting with friends, this place is noisy like a school cafeteria and old-school cool.
The door charge is good for a two-hour stay and the only other minimum requirement is you buy a drink. There are also items on the menu, which you can buy separately. Most of which are reminiscent of popular school lunch items like fried bread and noodle sets.
Currently, there are Dagashi Bars in Ebisu, Ikebukuro, Ningyocho, and Suitengu. Step back in time and let your inner child out here.
Website: http://www.dagashi-bar.com (Japanese only)
Kamikawaguchiya is not a re-created space, it is the real thing. In fact, it is the oldest Dagashiya in Tokyo, which has been in business since 1781. Located on the grounds of Kishibojin Shrine in Higashi Ikebukuro, it has had thirteen owners and has delighted many generations of Japanese kids. The shop usually opens from 10 AM to 5 PM, but may be closed on days with bad weather conditions.
15 Most Popular Dagashi Today
As earlier mentioned, there’s a wide range of items that are classified as Dagashi. Some items are familiar across cultures while others are considered peculiar for non-Japanese. The world of Dagashi is as colorful as their packaging, and just in case you want a crash course, these are the Top 15 Dagashi Items you should know:
Literally translated as delicious stick, Umaibou is something like a cheese puff except that it comes in many other flavors, both sweet and savory ones. It comes in individually wrapped cylindrical sticks that sell for about ¥10 each. And because it is manufactured in Japan, you will encounter one of a kind flavors. There’s the best-selling “Mentaiko” (spicy cod roe), while the other interesting ones include “Takoyaki” (a local dish of grilled octopus balls) and Teriyaki Burger.
2. Tirol Choco
Simply put, Tirol Choco is bite-sized chocolate, but the fun in them lies in hunting down its many variants. There are of course standard ones but every so often, it comes up with limited edition offerings, which are either seasonal or collaboration items. Recently, the company has come up with an interesting service called DECO Choco Store in Shibuya where you can design your own Tirol chocolate with customized flavors and packaging.
3. Baby Star Ramen
Baby Star Ramen is a popular brand of fried-noodle style snack that comes in multiple flavors. They are crispy, flavorful, highly addicting, and although typically eaten as it is, people can get creative with its application in other recipes. So far, it is also used as toppings in other dishes like salads, Monjayaki (Tokyo-style Okonomiyaki), and Onigiri (Japanese rice ball).
4. Cabbage Taro / Kyabetsu Taro
No, it’s not made of cabbage despite its name. Rather, it’s a corn snack flavored with Okonomiyaki sauce and a hint of seaweed. It comes in small packets that contain just the right amount of cornballs for a quick snack.
Sukonbu is a light snack made of vinegar-flavored dried kelp. It is the rare healthy option in this category dominated by highly processed foods, as kelp is widely known to be a low-calorie food that also boasts of some beauty benefits. There are many Sukonbu brands available in the market, but the most prominent would be this product’s originator Miyako Kombu.
6. Choco Bat
Choco Bat by Sanritsu is a biscuit stick covered in chocolate. It is a snack that pays homage to baseball, the most popular sport in Japan. If you’re familiar with Pocky, it is similar to this, but in a way, Choco Bat is better, because it’s larger.
7. Yocchan Ika
To foreigners, Yocchan Ika can be polarizing. It’s a snack that you’ll either hate or love with no in-betweens. These are snacks made of thin strips of dried fish or squid that you nibble on. It has strong odors and intense fishy tastes. Whether it’s delicious or totally repulsive will depend on one’s personal preferences.
8. Big Katsu
It is not made of pork but it tries to taste like it. Nevertheless, this Tonkatsu imitation is popular among locals and does the trick of passing off hunger in between meals.
This is the only ramen that you will find in the candy section of supermarkets. Just add water to the cup and you’re up for a mini-meal. It’s so tiny that you’re likely to finish this cup in two slurps.
10. Sakura Daikon
It is a slice of pickled white radish preserve likened to Sakura (cherry blossoms) because of its reddish color that will leave your tongue tinged with pink. It has a unique tangy flavor, like eating kosher dills, and if you’re not Japanese, you are most likely not to understand the love for Sakura Daikon. However, believe it or not, locals munch on them as it is and they absolutely love it!
11. Young Donuts
Now we go to something more Western and more familiar, doughnuts. Young Donuts by Miyata are simple sugar coated doughnuts that come in petite proportions. They’re cute, delicious, and ultra-popular among young and old.
Kinakobo is another unique Dagashi. Kinako powder is roasted soybean flour popularly used in another Japanese confection, Mochi. In Kinakobo, this powder is mixed with sugar and syrup, and later on shaped into sticks about the size of your pinkie finger.
13. Orion Mini Cola & Mini Sour
Decades ago, yogurts in glass jars are popular food items delivered to Japanese homes. This snack is a replica of those jars except that what’s inside is powdered candy instead of real yogurt. This treat comes with a mini spatula just like how the yogurt jars of old came with disposable wooden spoons.
Konpeito is one of Japan’s oldest candies brought in by the Portuguese some time during the 1700’s. The name is derived from the Portuguese word “confeitou” meaning confection and is basically hard candy made of sugar. Since then, Konpeitu occupied a special place in Japanese culture. Aside from giving people a sugar high, these colorful candies are commonly given as gifts called Bonbonieru – Konpeito candy wrapped in beautiful boxes and often given at bridal parties.
Thumbnail image is from Wiki Media Commons.