Why Are Kit Kats So Popular in Japan

by Fiona Cheung

Japanese Kit Kats are in a category of their own. You might know that Kit Kats are incredibly popular in Japan. But, have you ever wondered how or even why, exactly, a chocolate brand from England became so popular all the way across the waters in Japan? Actually, in Japan, Kit Kats are actually known as a symbol of good luck. More specifically, a good luck charm for exam students.

The History of Kit Kats in Japan?

Matcha Kit Kat

Kit Kats were initially introduced to Japan in 1973, over 50 years after they were first invented in England by British confectioner Rowntree. Present-day, Kit Kat is owned by Nestle. In 2004, Kit Kat launched its ever-so-famous green tea flavored Kit Kat in Japan, and was soon followed by a slew of seasonal, regional, and limited-time flavors. In 2014, Kit Kat actually took the top selling sales position from Japan’s reigning number one confectionary company, Meiji.

It wasn’t until 2000 Nestle Japan began experimenting with flavors to create Kit Kats that would suit local tastes. Thus the Japanese Kit Kat was born with the introduction of the strawberry flavored Kit Kat. Hokkaido acted as the test market for the initial release of the strawberry Kit Kat. Luckily for Nestle Japan their release date serendipitously aligned with the start of strawberry season.

Japanese Kit Kats

Because of the success of the strawberry Kit Kat in Hokkaido, Nestle Japan conducted a test market. They found that the strawberry Kit Kat wasn’t just popular with Japanese locals but also with tourists visiting from abroad. As a result they began to develop flavors of Kit Kats that represented regional specialty foods, which could be purchased as omiyage. Omiyage are specially packaged food souvenirs that are purchased by travelers to give to friends and family. In Hiroshima you’ll find a Kit Kat flavored after momiji manju, a steamed maple leaf shaped cake. Okinawa is famous for its purple sweet potatoes, so many souvenir shops will display beni-imo (purple sweet potato) Kit Kats.

Japanese Kit Kats and Good Luck

Kit Kat in Japanese is pronounced “kitto katto” which actually sounds very similar to the Japanese phrase “kitto katsu”, which translates to “you will surely win”. The word “kitto” in Japanese means “surely or absolutely”, and the word “katsu” means “bound to win”.

Due to Kit Kats closeness in sound to this popular phrase, the brand become synonymously associated with good luck. Japanese parents would often gift Kit Kats to their children before a big test or exam as a good luck charm, telling them that they will surely win and do well on their exams. Nestle has said that they often see their sales spike in January, when the Japanese college entrance exams are held. And most of the time, when students receive these Kit Kats, they aren’t to be eaten, but rather to have as an amulet for a successful exam period.

Kit Kat, as a brand, definitely took advantage of this lucky coincidence hopped on this trend themselves, with their “Lucky Charm” advertising campaign winning the Asian Brand Marketing Effectiveness Award in 2005. In 2009, Nestle launched a campaign with the Japan Post, where they sold special Kit Kat packages that had a space to affix a stamp and write a message of encouragement to their friends and families that could be mailed from 20,000 post offices across Japan. This campaign was so successful that the promotional packages were sold out in a month. This campaign also won them the Media Grand Prix in the 2010 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

 

Japanese Kit Kats Flavors

Currently, there are over 300 different Kit Kat flavors in Japan, all created by pastry chefs, with limited availability for seasonal delicacies, regional specialties and other limited time special flavors. Some popular and unique flavors include Strawberry Kit Kats, Japanese Green Tea Kit Kats, Cherry Blossom flavored Kit Kats, and even Sake flavored Kit Kats.

Kit Kat Chocolatory

There is even a luxury Kit Kat shop in Tokyo, the Kit Kat Chocolatory that sells more luxurious versions of the Kit Kats. These high-end Kit Kats are developed by classically trained pastry chef Yasumasa Takagi and made using finer chocolates and premium ingredients. These chocolate bars are designed with more sophisticated adult tastes in mind varying both form and sweetness levels.

Beyond that new seasonal flavors are constantly being introduced for a limited time, many of which do not translate to international tastes. For example, flavors like red bean, kinako or soybean powder, and soy sauce. 

What makes Japanese Kit Kats more appealing than their international counterparts is the constant release of inventive flavor combinations. The steady release of limited edition flavors makes it fun to try to see how many new and interesting flavors of Japanese Kit Kats you can. To riff off the Pokemon catchphrase, gotta try them all!

As most of these flavors are unique to Japan and hard to find elsewhere, Bokksu Japanese Snack Boutique is a great place to check out if you’re looking to get your hands on special and uniquely flavored Kit Kat bars. Bokksu Boutique offers a variety of Kit Kat flavors such as Hojicha Tea Otona no Amasa, Otona no Amasa Premium Mint, Yogurt Sake, Passion fruit, Green Tea, Peach Parfait, and many more. If you’re interested you should definitely try some of these flavors out yourself, or even hop on the Japanese trend, and send them to your friends and families as a good luck charm!

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