What is Dagashi?
You might be old enough to remember those retro candies you could buy for a quarter at the corner store when you were young: Bazooka Bubble Gum, Laffy Taffy, Pop Rocks, candy necklaces—even Necco Wafers if you’re of a certain generation. In Japan, dagashi are the equivalent. Dagashi loosely translates to something like “trifling snacks,” because they are eaten less for flavor and more for the thrill of being able to buy anything at all as a youngster.
While wagashi are tasteful Japanese confections for more sophisticated occasions, dagashi are humble, throw-back Japanese snacks. Cheap and unassuming Japanese sweets like hard candies, gum, jellies, chocolates, and the like remind people of their childhood. There are savory types of dagashi too, such as dried squid, pickled seaweed, and chips made from potato, corn, or puffed rice.
Dagashi have actually been around for more than 300 years in Japan. Back in the Edo period, they were made with simple ingredients such as corn or cornstarch instead of expensive sugar. Even now, dagashi are usually very affordable, under 100 yen, or 50 cents to $1.00. After World War II, many ingredients were in short supply, so more cutesy versions of dagashi sprung up to attract children. There are often adorable characters on the packaging and sometimes little prizes or toys inside the bag.
In short, children love dagashi and grown ups love to reminisce about their childhood. Plus, did we mention that they’re inexpensive? Everybody wins!
Where Can You Buy Dagashi?
In Japan, you can find dagashi at many convenience stores or at old school dagashi shops called dagashiya. Whether propelled by nostalgia or by curiosity, you can also browse a large array of dagashi-inspired candies online. The examples below are more sophisticated and upscale than dagashi normally is, but they give you a sense of what the dagashi craze is all about.
Ramune is a very popular soda pop drink that comes in a little bottle. Handmade Ramune Candy are hard candies, hand crafted by renowned maker Daimonji. They were created to mimic the unique soda flavor, fizziness, and refreshing quality that Ramune is known for.
Another example of a classic Japanese snack that has a dagashi feel is Takoyaki Tei Corn Puffs. Takoyaki is a battered, grilled octopus snack that has a tangy soy flavor. This light and airy corn puff snack has the same round shape and flavor as takoyaki. Trust us, it’s delicious and you just have to try it!
Another option is to treat yourself to a dagashi and wagashi immersion experience by signing up for Bokksu’s Japanese snack subscription box. This means that every month, a box of 20-24 beautifully packaged Japanese sweets, snacks, and teas will appear on your doorstep. These subscription boxes are filled with items that are definitely a step up from the dime store dagashi most are familiar with. They are made by well-known artisanal makers and curated to give you a truly authentic Japanese snack box experience.
You can also purchase a limited edition Japanese candy box or snack box through Bokksu, including The Largest Snack Box Ever. This snack box contains a fantastic assortment of classic Japanese goodies such as potato snacks, Pocky, konjac jellies, and Cubie milk chocolate—all much more sophisticated than traditional dagashi but with some of the same classic and memorable Japanese flavors.
Types of Japanese Snacks or Kashi 菓子
Until the 700s, kashi (菓子)mainly referred to fruit (果) in Japan! There’s nothing wrong with a healthy snack, but let’s count our blessings that sugar was introduced to Japan via China. Right away Japan started working on their sweets game, and now—centuries later—we have a wonderful variety of delectable Japanese candy and dessert to choose from. Here are some Japanese words you’ll hear and see with the root of kashi or ka 菓:
Beika 米菓 = rice-based snacks like senbei, mochi, dango
Dagashi 駄菓子 = cheap sweets, candy, or confection
Kashi 菓子 = snack, candy, sweet, confection
Kashi pan 菓子パン = sweet bun with filling or topping
Kashi shokunin 菓子職人 = confectioner, pastry chef
Kashiya 菓子屋 = confectionary store
Okashi お菓子 = [“o” makes a noun honorific or polite] snack, candy, sweet, confection
Wagashi 和菓子 = traditional Japanese sweets, often made with mochi and anko (bean paste)
Enjoy your Japanese sweets and snacks! But whatever you do, don’t confuse okashi お菓子 (snacks) with okashii 可笑しい (funny, strange). That would be weird.
By Megan Taylor Stephens