When I and my fellow classmates first arrived in Kyoto, the resident director of our program told us about all the food-related adventures we could seek out while we were here in Japan. She called Japan the “Land of Snacks” and invited us to investigate this side of Japanese culture. At the time I thought this was probably a little melodramatic. Of course, I thought, snacks are readily available at all times back in the good ol’ United States of America, too. Obviously the stacked racks of bags of chips, shelves upon shelves of candy bars, and full-wall-length glass-door refrigerators with two-liter pop bottles which you can find in any American gas station or grocery store belies the notion that it is Japan alone that loves snacks and snacking. What makes Japanese snacks so different or special? However, there really is something special about the way you can interact with snack foods here which I think deserves such a poetic moniker as “The Land of Snacks.”
In general, I find myself snacking a lot more often than I thought I would. In my life in the Colby dorms or at home in the States, I am definitely not a huge snacker. I typically just eat at mealtimes. But between the long commutes, stressfully enormous amounts of work, and the delicious offerings available, it is almost impossible to resist. I find myself stopping by the konbini (convenience store) quite often on my way home. Luckily, snacks usually come in pretty small amounts, so gorging is less of a worry than it is when you pick up a jumbo-size bag of Doritos in America. I also have found that foods are less tied to specific times in Japanese culture. For example, my younger host sister can pull out a bag of chips to enjoy after her breakfast at 7:30 in the morning, or you can have a waffle at 2:30 in the afternoon without so much as a bat of the eye. This opens up the snack options that suffer a little from temporal constraints in the States (I have a hard time imagining myself eating chips in the morning back home, but here it feels perfectly comfortable).
Only a week or so after meeting my host family, I went to a local department store to do some school shopping. My older host sister was the one who showed me the way and perused the aisles while I picked out some notebooks. After the errand was done, she excitedly pulled me over to the food-related department. My host sister told me that she would be my “snack mentor” during my time in Japan, and then recommended some of her favorite treats. One of those, a bag of chocolate biscuit-type cookies coated in a strawberry lacquer, has since become my ultimate go-to snack. I have not yet figured out what I am going to do about that when I have to leave Japan in a few weeks, but right now I can just enjoy the access to this treat that I have while it lasts. In any case, I definitely have come to trust my host sister’s judgement of foods and often take her recommendations when we go out to eat.