Back in our countryside days in beautiful Ise-shi, one of our close female friends bought us some Kit Kats as a “good luck” present. Why? Well, she explained that because we were about to take the Japanese proficiency test we needed some luck, and “Kit Kat” closely resembles the phrase “kitto katsu”, meaning “I hope you win”. Students say this to each other before the big entrance examinations, and, thanks to a clever marketing campaign, mothers started buying them for their kids before the exam. Heck, they already eat tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork) for the same reason, so that’s one lucky meal!
These days, Kit Kats are absolutely HUGE in Japan, with a variety of flavors that ranges from “wine” to “green tea” to the latest “brandy and orange”. Now, Kit Kat has taken a page from the Hello Kitty playbook and has started to create custom regionalized chocolate bars!
To understand this phenomenon, it’s necessary to understand the way Japanese people regionalize everything edible. There are certain foods that are known for being from each area, and most people know it well. Hiroshima has okonomiyaki, Osaka has takoyaki, our old town Ise is famous for akafuku, and it goes on. In fact, EVERY area, no matter how small, is “famous” for something, most likely food-related. In the Ise area alone there’s akafuku (rice cakes and sweet beans), Ise-ebi (shrimp), Ise udon (noodles), and Matsusaka beef (from beer-drinking cows!), all known throughout Japan.
Hello Kitty took this mindset and ran with it, creating charms, towels, and other trinkets that are branded with each place’s name and a design reflecting the area specialties and attractions. Nestle has done a similar thing with the latest “exotic” Kit Kat series, created by celebrity chef Takagi, of Le Patissier Takagi.
“Exotic Tokyo” combines bitter chocolate and raspberries, “Exotic Kansai” (Osaka area) has sweet chocolate with a sour mix of orange, lemon, and passion fruit accented with ginger, “Exotic Hokkaido” is creamy white chocolate (because it snows a lot there!) with blueberries, and “Exotic Kyushu” features caramel, orange, and mango with white chocolate. All of these flavors are designed to reflect the feeling and spirit of the area rather than culture, and actually do a decent job of it. “Exotic Kansai” is said to reflect the “energy” of the people there, and the others are branded on similar lines. Each one also has its own “Sakura edition” for springtime to celebrate the annual cherry blossoms.
Small sets go for ¥840 ($7), and large ones are ¥1575 ($13), so they aren’t cheap. Of course, for us, these are the equivalent of “Exotic Berlin” or “Exotic Cincinnati” (Now with crack!), but for the Japanese it’s just another way to define where they come from. Oh…and clever marketing. Can’t forget that.
Pictures from Nestle Japan