Imagine never eating a Japanese snack but having a vivid idea of how it tastes and smells. That is the power of pop culture. It gets people familiar with the traditions, foods, and lifestyles of places they have never visited. Various forms of pop culture, including movies, anime, songs, and television shows, have played a vital role in the global recognition of iconic Japanese snacks. From spicy ramen noodles to delicious okonomiyaki, you’ll find Japan’s elegant cuisine represented in critically acclaimed works of art that helped shape the 21st century. In this post, we’ll reveal exactly where and when these snacks appeared and how global perceptions of them have changed over the years. Get ready to see which of your favorite anime, manga, games, and films incorporate Japanese snack culture. Enjoy!
Anime and Manga: A Gateway to Japanese Snack Culture
Anime and manga are probably two of Japan’s biggest exports. Their exciting storytelling, captivating art styles, and narratives have gathered a vast global audience filled with die-hard fans from different cultural backgrounds. Besides providing great entertainment, anime and manga like Naruto, One Piece, and Demon Slayer have left their mark on global pop culture, bringing foreigners much closer to Japanese traditions. Let’s explore some examples of how anime and manga have successfully incorporated Japanese snacks into their stories.
Naruto: Ramen Noodles
In both the anime and manga versions of Naruto, the main character absolutely loves ramen! He can be seen in various episodes devouring a big bowl of the noodles with gleeful delight. Ramen also has an emotional appeal to the character, as he holds fond memories of eating it at the Ichiraku store with his loved ones.
Demon Slayer: Sakura Mochi
The rice ball dish with sweet red bean paste filling and cherry blossom wrapping, sakura mochi, made an appearance in the award-winning anime show, Demon Slayer. Mitsuri Kanroji is obsessed with sakura mochi. She ate so much of it that her hair turned pink, reflecting the color of the snack.
Many people adore Doraemon, the eccentric cat robot, for his antics and conflicting personality. Two of these funny personality traits are his fear of mice and his love for dorayaki red bean cakes!
Food Wars!: Various Japanese Snacks (Gyoza, Onigiri, etc.)
What better way to showcase the range and depth of the Japanese style of cooking and eating than with an anime about food? Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma incorporated dozens of Japanese snacks, including karaage, onigiri (rice balls), and soy sauce-served gyoza.
Japanese Snacks in Film: Tasting the Flavor of Cinema
There have been moments in film, both Japanese and international, where Japanese snacks have been featured. The following shows and their scenes have contributed to viewers' curiosity and love for Japanese cuisine:
Tampopo (1985): Ramen Noodles
This is one of the Japanese films that took the 80s by storm. Tampopo is a story about a single mother on a quest to craft the perfect ramen recipe and establish a successful ramen house. This comedy drama received tons of praise from film critics and is the inspiration for many modern movies about ramen, including 2008’s The Ramen Girl. Many restaurants and noodle bars today are named Tampopo.
Jiro’s Dream of Sushi (2011): Sushi
This is an American documentary that follows an 85-year-old sushi master, Jiro Ono, on his professional journey to perfect the art of sushi-making. Both critics and viewers loved the film. In 2012, it became available on the Netflix streaming platform, further increasing its popularity.
Dreams for Sale (2012): Various Japanese Dishes
This is a film that focuses on the story of a husband and wife (Kan and Sato) who own a restaurant until misfortune strikes. There are lots of scenes that show the couple cooking Japanese food.
Video Games: Interactive Snacking Experiences
Video games are not spared from Japan’s love for traditional snacks. Below are two games that allow players to engage with Japanese food in a virtual world setting.
Monster Hunter Rise: The game is the sixth installment of the Monster Hunter game series. It was nominated for several awards in 2021, including Best RPG and Best Multiplayer Game. One of the virtual settings in the game is called Kamura Village, a place that reflects Japanese culture to the fullest. The gameplay allows you to find and eat various Japanese snacks, including onigiri, candy apples, and mochi.
Final Fantasy 15: FFXV is the 15th game in the famed Final Fantasy series. In 2017, the developers partnered with Japanese food company Nissin to create ramen-themed downloadable content for their Cup Noodle brand. The content contained a Cup Noodle-style hat as part of a promotional partnership. There was also an in-game mission that was focused on Cup Noodle.
Fried Food in Japanese Pop Culture: From Tempura to Karaage
Fried Japanese foods have been depicted in various media forms to the extent that they have become common in Western countries thanks to the buzz generated by the movies, shows, and anime they appear in. Tempura is the perfect example of fried foods being represented in Japanese pop culture. The snack makes cameos in various anime shows, including the following:
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Sora No Woto
Other fried foods like Katsudon (deep-fried pork cutlet), Karaage, and ebi fry with dipping sauce have been depicted in shows like My Hero Academia, Food Wars!, and Sailor Moon.
The Comforting Presence of Miso Soup in Media
Miso is such a staple food in Japan that most family scenes reference it directly or indirectly. The Japanese animated film Spirited Away has a scene at the beginning where Chihiro Ogino and her parents stumble upon an empty restaurant with a ridiculous amount of food. Miso soup was one of the delightful dishes on display. Generally, miso soup in Japanese storytelling plays a symbolic and comforting role due to its categorization as a side dish to a family meal.
Japanese Pancake (Okonomiyaki) and Its Cultural Cameos
Cabbage pancake or okonomiyaki, is a snack that epitomizes the communal and customizable nature of Japanese cuisine. The name is a derivative of okonomi, which means “how you like.” It has made several appearances in pop culture, but perhaps none of them are as iconic as the beloved food scene in Little Forest. In this manga-based film, the main protagonist is Hye-won, a food enthusiast. In one of the most popular scenes of the movie, Hye-won’s mom makes okonomiyaki.
Popular Favorites: Ramen and Udon in the Spotlight
Of all the Japanese dishes that make it into pop culture, noodles appear to be the most popular, particularly ramen and udon. A lot of the time, they’re paired with noodle soup and vegetables cooked until steamy. Ramen and udon noodles are also eaten with meat or grilled fish. Anime is notorious for depicting these noodles in their scenes, with Naruto and Dragon Ball being the leading promoters of Japanese noodle culture. Udon and ramen are also present in movies, TV shows, literature, and music. Japanese singer Otsuka Ai thrilled ramen lovers with her track titled Three-Minute Ramen Cooking, where she sings about the ingredients and types of instant ramen noodles. The song inspired thousands of food enthusiasts globally.
Red Bean Treats: Sweet Stars of Screen and Page
Treats made from sweet red bean paste not only suit Japanese palates but are also making waves globally. This paste, also called anko, can be eaten alone or with other foods, especially mochi. Earlier, we mentioned how a character in Demon Slayer was obsessed with the taste of anko in her mochi snack. This is only an exaggerated version of the truth, as many people in Japan can’t get enough of anko-filled snacks. Hence, there have been more instances of anko filling in pop culture. Boruto and My Hero Academia both contain scenes with Taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry) filled with anko. Sailor Moon is also notorious for having a lot of Japanese snack scenes, most of which include foods that taste better with red bean filling.
Regional Specialties: Highlighting Japan's Culinary Diversity
Popular media has exposed more people to regional cultures in the Japanese diet. Many of the cooking scenes use authentic ingredients and cooking methods from real regions in Japan. For instance, the ingredients used by the main character in Little Forest were grown in the Tohoku region. Even video games with cooking and eating elements are not left out. Some of the virtual settings may be fictional, but they are inspired by real regions in Japan, and so are their food elements. The country has a vast culinary diversity that has fascinated followers of pop culture. For example, sukiyaki (Japanese beef hot pot) has two distinct preparation styles: one from the eastern region of Kanto and another from the western region of Kansai. It’s not uncommon for people to feel so drawn to the food and culture of a place in Japan that they end up trying their favorite foods via online Asian markets like Bokksu Market or visiting the region in person.
The Global Influence of Japanese Snacks on Pop Culture
People see beloved characters, actors, and singers enjoying a Japanese snack and suddenly develop the urge to try it. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that has benefited the country in the form of culinary tourism. Already, new government policies are being proposed to increase the frequency at which characters in movies, TV shows, and anime eat Japanese meals. The aim is to boost the popularity of Japanese cuisine abroad. In a way, eating the same snack as your favorite anime or movie character brings you closer to the fantasy, and you almost become a part of the story. Explore Japanese snacks and flavors through Bokksu Snack Box. Every month, we’ll make you feel like you’re sharing a snack with your favorite anime, manga, or film characters by delivering delicious treats to your door!