Japan-Only Kit Kat Flavor Guide - From Regional Collections to Limited Editions
From watermelon to wasabi, sports drink to brown sugar syrup - if you’ve ever been or know someone who’s been to Japan, chances are you’ve come across (or been lucky enough to be given) some weird and wonderful flavors of Kit Kat that can't be found anywhere else in the world. Japan is miles ahead in the snack game in terms of the variety of Kit Kat flavors, and most of them remain exclusively available in Japan. Are you intrigued by all the Japan-limited Kit Kat opportunities? Collecting Kit Kats is a fun thing to add to your to-do list in Japan, so let’s take a look at these unique flavors and where you can find them!
Jun 24 2020 (Nov 06 2020)
A Brief History of Kit Kats in Japan: The Break-Time Snack That Became An Obsession
Kit Kat made its first appearance in the world in the United Kingdom in 1935, at the time called "Chocolate Crisp." The name "Kit Kat" was inspired by the "Kit Cat Club," the name of the social club the founders frequented, and was applied to the chocolate treat in 1937.
The humble Kit Kat was first introduced to Japan in 1973, but it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that Nestle Japan first experimented with diversifying its product by introducing the strawberry flavor to Hokkaido - serendipitously at the start of the region’s strawberry-picking season.
Since then, popularity for Kit Kats grew with Nestle Japan’s ability to capitalize on Japan’s souvenir-giving culture, while limited-edition flavors create an image of scarcity and rarity, increasing the value of the Kit Kats for its customers. Twenty years on, nearly 400 flavors have been developed, and in any given year there are about 40 flavors available, plus 20 to 30 rotating new ones.
The quintessential Japanese flavor of green tea alone has had a staggering ten varieties, while four of the Japanese alcohol flavors, rice wine, plum wine, yogurt wine, and yuzu wine, have gained notoriety, with new flavors constantly being churned out.
You’re Telling Me There’s More Than Just the Green Tea Flavor of Kit Kats in Japan?
Let me break this down for you a bit:
First of all, you’ve got your six year-round “regular” flavors - original chocolate, dark chocolate, green tea, strong green tea, roasted green tea, and raspberry.
There are also annual seasonal flavors, such as sakura flavors that crop up around sakura season in the spring, and mint chocolate which often makes an appearance in early summer. Although the overall notes of the flavors are the same every year, oftentimes subtle changes are added to keep the flavors new and exciting.
Every few months, new flavors are introduced. This season - at the time of writing - the limited-edition flavors are sakura mochi, sakura Japanese sake, Easter banana, and yuzu matcha.
Now we move on to geography: regional flavors. Kit Kats have become popular souvenirs, or “omiyage,” for domestic travelers in Japan, where traditionally the act of bringing something back from a journey to share with friends, family, or colleagues is considered an essential social etiquette. The flavors are based on carefully chosen local ingredients or delicacies that represent the very essence of a region - for example, Kyoto’s Itokyuemon matcha, Hiroshima’s momiji manju (maple-leaf shaped steamed cake), Okinawa’s beni-imo (purple sweet potato), and Nagoya’s azuki bean sandwich all utilize the flavors and treats that represent the regions from which they are based. Almost every region will have its own unique Kit Kat flavor, some having more than one. They make great souvenirs as they are light, have beautiful packaging, and come in individually wrapped small bites which makes sharing easy and hygienic.
Finally, there is the luxury “Kit Kat Chocolatory” kind - these are fancy Kit Kat bars devised by world-class patisserie chef Yasumasa Takagi, made with higher-grade chocolates and other ingredients such as dehydrated seasonal fruits. While you can find some of these superior bars in other countries where they have the Kit Kat Chocolatory stores, there are of course fancy flavors unique to Japan, such as cassis, yuzu, and passion fruit. They also have chocolate bars made with cacao sourced from exotic places such as Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
Weirder Than Willy Wonka: What Kit Kat Flavors You Can Find in Japan
Nestle Japan hasn’t held back in venturing into bold territory, with eccentric flavors such as baked potato, cough drop, hot Japanese chili, and edamame. They’ve got flavors that would make even Willy Wonka’s toes curl - sports drink, apple vinegar, yuzu and pepper, soy sauce, miso soup, ginger ale, mashed & boiled green soybeans...the list goes on. It makes you wonder if Nestle Japan’s product-development team had had a few too many cups of green tea and vending-machine sweets at their late-night brainstorming sessions.
New flavors also come about from Kit Kat’s collaborations with other brands, such as the iconic Tokyo Banana - the banana-shaped sponge cake with cream filling and the official souvenir sweet of Tokyo. The “Jujitsu Yasai” vegetable juice flavor was released in collaboration with the popular vegetable juice drink of Ito En, one of Japan’s largest drinks companies. The chocolate wafers contained cream made from Ito En's vegetable juice powder and were wrapped in white chocolate with an apple carrot flavor.
In 2018, to celebrate the 45th year since the Japanese launch of the Kit Kat, Nestle Japan held an online competition calling on people all over the world to nominate new flavors and cast their votes for their New Flavor World Summit campaign. There was an abundance of unusual suggestions including breast milk, stroopwafel, and mi goreng instant noodles. Finally, after half a million votes from 81 countries had been cast, the relatively conventional strawberry tiramisu was chosen as the winning flavor.
Other Quirky Kit Kats: Things You Might Not Know...
There have also been Kit Kat products developed for fund-raising for disaster-relief in Japan, where 10 yen for every bag purchased is donated to the cause. The “Ikinari Dango,” a sweet potato and azuki bean treat that Kumamoto is well known for, supports the rebuilding of Kumamoto after a powerful earthquake in 2016 struck the region, and the mini “Momiji Manju” is to help relieve the area that the Northern Osaka earthquake struck in June 2018 as well as the mass floods that occurred in West Japan in July the same year.
Funky flavors aside, some of these Kit Kats also come with suggestions on how to eat them. The ice cream flavor (ironically) suggests that you grill them in a toaster, while the nuts & cranberry yogurt bars are supposedly better after putting them in the fridge.
Toward the end of 2019, Nestle unveiled the Cacao Fruit Kit Kat, which replaces added sugar with cacao pulp, adding yet another unusual recipe to the Japanese Kit Kat repertoire.
Shopping Guide: Where in Japan Can I Get My Hands On These Kit Kats?
You can find uniquely Japanese Kit Kat flavors in a lot of stores in Japan: convenience stores, supermarkets, souvenir stores, drug stores, and even some post offices. The discount chain superstore Don Quijote (or Donki for short) also provides a great variety of Kit Kats from some of the other regions of Japan and at a lower cost. You will also find them in most airports, train stations, and major bus terminals, as well as other locations that host gift shops.
A Kit Kat enthusiast’s trip to Japan must include a visit to one of the Kit Kat Chocolatory stores in Tokyo and Osaka for the experience as well as the aforementioned high-end Kit Kats. The beautiful gift boxes, which contain a variety of flavors from the Chocolatory series, make a perfect present to take back home.
Do be aware that the limited-edition flavors are a hot commodity, and can sell out unexpectedly fast, especially from supermarkets and convenience stores. Several flavors are available online through various online retailers, but some of them can only be bought in person, so if you see a flavor you like be sure to snap it up when you can!
Japan took the modest Kit Kat and ran, making it a product that both locals and travelers love, even if the travelers already have Kit Kats in their home countries. Are you one of the few enthusiasts who has journeyed around Japan in search of the rare and collectible Kit Kats? Were you intrigued by some of those flavors, or were you appalled? Be sure to try as many flavors as you can the next time you can get your hands on some Japan-only Kit Kats!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.