What have you heard about Japanese chocolate? From Morinaga and Meiji to Lotte and Fujiya, the best Japanese chocolate brands are responsible for filling the country with deliciously milky and utterly decadent chocolatey snacks.
Aside from the typical dark, white and milk chocolates you might expect, there are a number of unique flavor options too, like matcha, wasabi, soy sauce, and sweet potato (many of which grace the humble KitKat, infamous for having over 300 different flavors in Japan).
Whether its chocolate covered strawberries or chocolate flavored mochi, you can bet that the most popular Japanese chocolate brands have had a hand in creating these tasty creations. So let’s get stuck into some chocolate!
Is Chocolate Popular in Japan?
If you’re wondering why Japanese chocolate is quite so delicious, it’s partly due to the country’s infamous Hokkaido milk, an extraordinarily creamy and high quality product that makes a huge difference to the flavor of the chocolate it’s used in.
But while Japan can make chocolate with its own dairy, cacao plants are difficult to grow in much of the country, which means the cacao beans are imported at cost. As a result, chocolate is sadly becoming more expensive in Japan thanks to the climbing costs of the ingredients involved in the manufacturing process. But there’s still no getting away from the fact that chocolate is still a hugely popular snack for the Japanese. Chocolate is readily available in every convenience store, street food vendors sell chocolate-dipped bananas on skewers at festivals throughout the year, and there are chocolate-focused celebrations and traditions on various public holidays - most notably on Valentine’s Day, when over $500 million is spent on chocolate every year.
History of Chocolate in Japan
It’s said that the first chocolate arrived in Japan in the late 1700s courtesy of the Dutch, one of the few nationalities allowed to enter the country during the Edo era. At this point in history, the only chocolate that various high-class Japanese people would be sampling is likely to have been drinking chocolate; the first solid bars of the stuff, however, made their way to Japan in the 1920s, and the more definitive chocolate era was during the US occupation after World War Two, due to American soldiers handing out the candy to Japanese children they encountered.
The Best Japanese Chocolate Brands
Though there’s a seemingly endless variety of chocolate on the shelves across Japan, a few big brand names usually stand out from the crowd. Let’s take a closer look at these famous Japanese chocolate brands and learn about these big chocolate players!
Fujiya is a popular confectionery company that makes popular Japanese candies and drinks, as well as managing a chain of cake stores and restaurants. The inspiration originally came from Western cuisine though; the first Fujiya store, established over a hundred years ago, was well known for selling a quintessentially British item known as ‘Christmas cake’ which is made from dried fruit and alcohol - the first of its kind to be sold in Japan!
Fujiya’s most popular items nowadays are the strawberry shortcake sponge cakes, along with Milky Candy, A La Mode Cream Filled Chocolates, and the Country MA'AM chocolate chip cookies. The pigtailed and smiling mascot is also a beloved part of Fujiya’s reputation.
Though it’s a South Korean company, there’s no denying the popularity of Lotte chocolate in Japan. Lotte is responsible for making Choco Pies (a kind of cake filled with marshmallow and wrapped in chocolate), Toppo (a bit like Pocky except reversed), and Lotte Almond Chocolate, which pairs whole roasted almonds together with rich layers of two different types of chocolate.
As Lotte makes all its chocolate with cacao from Ghana, West Africa, there’s also a ‘Ghana’ chocolate bar which is especially affordable at just 100 yen ($1).
Famous the world over for creating the eponymous ‘Pocky’ snack, Ezaki Glico is also known throughout Japan for the running man logo that features on most packaging.
So what is Pocky, you may ask? This chocolate-covered biscuit stick first made an appearance in 1966 and immediately became a huge hit, to the extent that a variety of different flavors are still available - though it’s marketed as ‘Mikado’ in some international countries.
The namesake of the Morinaga brand, Taichiro Morinaga, could well be praised as the man who truly introduced chocolate to the Japanese masses. Back in the early 1900s, Morinaga returned from a visit to the US and opened a modest confectionery shop in Tokyo, quickly deciding to sell mass-produced chocolate pieces in pocket-sized boxes. The popularity was so immediate that he began selling the Morinaga chocolate bar in 1918 – and the rest is history.
Today, the Morinaga Milk Industry is still in production across the globe, and sells many dairy products alongside their chocolate treats: their Instant Milk Cocoa powder is particularly popular.
Saving the best till last, Meiji is well known as the country’s most popular chocolate brand. First established in 1918 in direct competition with Morinaga, the Meiji company still manufactures lots of Japan’s best-selling chocolates, including ‘Kinoko no Yama’, ‘Macadamia Chocolates’, and the classic bars of ‘Meiji Milk Chocolate’ – famed for its rich flavor and creamy smooth texture thanks to the 100% pure milk used.
Then there are the Winter-only ‘Meltykiss’ chocolate truffles, which are dusted in cocoa powder to mimic snow and filled with a range of different delicious melty flavors, and the mini chocolate cubes known as ‘Cubie’, which are specially designed so they only melt in your mouth and not all over your hands. The chocolate that’s used in the Cubie recipe has a high milk content so it’s particularly creamy too.
If you can’t stop daydreaming about chocolate right now, head over to the Bokksu Boutique where plenty of different chocolate bars are waiting for you to taste. You can also try the Bokksu subscription box which is delivered right to your door every month and contains a multitude of different flavored candies, savory snacks and chocolate goodies.