Dagashi is a broad category of inexpensive and fun Japanese snacks, many of which hold a sense of nostalgia for Japanese adults. Dagashi are sold in small quantities, often as individually wrapped candies or snacks. In contrast to wagashi, which are traditional Japanese snacks often served during tea ceremonies, dagashi are much less expensive and made with cheaper ingredients. Dagashi are not meant to be fancy. They are simple snacks meant to be enjoyed for their flavors and fun packaging. Dagashi can cost only 5 yen and typically cost less than 100 yen, which in U.S. currency ranges from about 5 cents to just under a dollar.
History of Dagashi
The term “dagashi” was coined during the Edo Period (1603-1868) when resources were scarce and sugar was expensive. Dagashi were created to be a more affordable snack option as opposed to wagashi and other sweets which were made of sugar. Instead, dagashi were made out of corn syrup and grains, which tends to make them less healthy but gives them a longer shelf life. After World War II, dagashi was popularized as a fun variety of snacks marketed towards children. Dagashi packaging typically features bright colors, bold designs, and recognizable characters.
Dagashi is comparable to the American “penny candy” of the 1950’s and 1960’s, which was a staple of American candy shops at the time. Similarly, during the height of their popularity in the same decades, specialty stores called dagashiya were a popular place for kids to stop after school to buy dagashi, small toys, and maybe even play some arcade games. These stores have declined over the past few decades in favor of convenience stores that sell more than just dagashi. However, there are still several dagashiya in Japan, and people enjoy the sense of childhood nostalgia they bring.
Types of Dagashi
There are many new types of dagashi that have been introduced in Japan, along with some classic dagashi that people continue to love. Some newer dagashi include sakuma drops, which are fruit-flavored hard candies that come in a small tin, and ramune candy, which are candy versions of the popular Japanese drink that come in a little soda bottle container. A traditional type of dagashi that is still popular is konpeito, which are colorful, round star-like candies made almost entirely from sugar. Konpeito were introduced to Japan by Portugal, but have become so popular in Japan that they are considered a traditional Japanese confection. In fact, you may have seen konpeito before in the Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away—they are the cute little candies that the soot sprites go wild for!
Dagashi is not only for those with a sweet tooth, however. There are also many savory varieties of dagashi. One classic example is umaibo, a Japanese snack that has been popular since the 1980’s and translates to “delicious stick.” Umaibo is a puffed corn snack that comes in many different flavors, but the original two are corn potage (a creamy Japanese soup) and grilled chicken. Umaibo is an especially nostalgic Japanese snack because it has been around for so long, and because it features a delightfully retro wrapper with a cat mascot. Some other savory types of dagashi include Baby Star Ramen, which is a crispy ramen flavored snack, and Big Katsu, which is made of fish but resembles and tastes like the Japanese breaded pork dish tonkatsu.
Dagashi is often overlooked in favor of the elegant and intricate designs of wagashi, but there is a certain novelty to dagashi that stirs up nostalgia and can bring out the inner child in Japanese adults. Dagashi has a long history in Japan and has given people an affordable option for Japanese sweets and snacks for many years, and has become a part of Japan’s snacking culture.