Things I love about Japan: The Snacking Culture

Japan has a snacking culture. From well stocked and interesting vending machines to cheap, delicious bags of snacks sold at every grocery store and super market, there is a never ending supply of snacks to eat in Japan. As a result, most foreigners who come to Japan gain weight. Despite all the walking, healthy food, and reasonably sized portions, it is hard to maintain your weight in Japan (but then again, I always seem to put on 10 pounds every time I move to a country – before my body adjusts).

I had a love-hate relationship with the snacking culture in Japan.

Chocolate fake band-aids. I love Japan.

Chocolate fake band-aids. I love Japan.

I loved it because, hello – chocolate filled koala crunches, senbei rice crackers, and salty popcorn? I love eating. Seriously – aside from blogging, sleeping, and watching trashy reality television, eating is my favorite thing to do (so basically, it’s my fourth hobby). I love the snacking culture in Japan because I always get to eat.

Every time I visit a friend’s house, there is food. Every time I go with that friend to another friend’s house, we are also bombarded with treats. When I taught English, my students used to bring bags of candy to share with the class (before I learned I was supposed to provide the snacks). When I’m chilling at a friend’s house before, during, or after a party, there is a never-ending supply of chips, caramel candies, and chocolate. And when I host a party at my apartment, I can buy four bags of popcorn (knowing full well I will only serve two of the bags), guilt-free. I love it. It is snack heaven.

I love the polite, cultural aspect of always offering a snack and beverage to visitors. It is fun, fresh, and delicious.

snacks food japan snacking culture things i love about japan

But there is another side to the love-hate relationships I have with the snacking culture in Japan, namely the hate side. As mentioned before, I like to eat. Actually, as pointed out by my fiancé in this post (click here to read what he said), I have a problem with eating TOO much. Which, you know, I didn’t think was a problem. But then everyone figured out I like to eat.

Now, when I visit friends, they prepare snack feasts for me. “It’s so fun watching you eat,” they say, “You really love food, don’t you? It’s cute.” And this is ok – as long as I’m only visiting one house.

But, I’m usually not just visiting one house, though.

When I make rounds (especially when I was teaching English), I typically visit two to four houses at a time. Each house lays out drinks, snacks, and chips. Even if they don’t know my eating habits, they will lay out a nice spread. That’s the polite thing to do.

Typical Japanese snacks

Typical Japanese snacks

“Here, try this cookie,” they will offer. “Just one slice of green tea cakes. Just one glass of tea.” By the third house, I’m stuffed. But I can’t say that, because that would be rude.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love the snacking culture in Japan. I think it is thoughtful and welcoming to offer your guests a beverage and snack when they visit. It makes me feel welcomed, happy, and wanted. Now, even when I’m back in America, I try to offer guests snacks when they visit my (very messy) room. However, sometimes I get the feeling that people don’t realized that I may or may not be at a restaurant, café, or other house before I visit them. They don’t realize I might be full. And so far, I haven’t figured out a polite way to decline their invitation for a snack (I’ve tried, “Oh, I’m full” or “I just ate lunch” or “I was just eating cake at Nami’s house” – none work).

So I just eat a lot.

snacks food japan snacking culture things i love about japan

And then I’m not hungry for dinner, which is often served at another friend’s house. And then they get sad because I’m not “eating as much as last time.” I over-eat a lot in Japan because I don’t want people to feel guilty or bad when I don’t ‘eat enough.’

But, you know, as far as cultural problems go – being addicted to Japanese snacks isn’t such a problem. I have a love-hate relationship with snacking culture in Japan, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

snacks food japan snacking culture things i love about japan


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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

6 Comments on Things I love about Japan: The Snacking Culture

  1. Loved this post, it really makes me want to try some of those snacks with tea :D.

    In China, you’re usually offered fruits if you visit someone or they’ll just plainly invite you to have lunch or dinner with them.

    In Austria, the equivalent to the Japanese snacks you mentioned would probably be coffee (and cookies). Austrians really love drinking coffee. But people aren’t usually offended if you decline in Austria, whereas in China you sometimes have to say 3 times in a row that you really can’t eat anymore for a host to accept that you’re full. Sometimes it’s more polite to say you are allergic to sth than to say you’re already full.

    • Interesting. From your description, it seems like the US is more similar to Austria (of course) than it is to China. In the US, you are often offered a beverage when you enter someone’s home to kind of hang out.

      I haven’t found a polite way to decline snacks in Japan yet. As long as you take a couple bits it’s “ok” – but it can get overwhelming. It’s interesting that you can use an allergy as an excuse, too.

  2. Japanese people never fail to amaze me by the fact that they seem to just have snacks around all the time. Even when I make an impromptu visit to a neighbor, or friends gather on the spur of the moment, the hostess will have something to serve. Why does it seem that nothing lasts that long in my house??

    I have come to the conclusion that Japanese people like to “have” snacks, but we Americans like to “eat” them. ;)

    • Oh my gosh, I love your conclusion. That is so true.
      I always had problems when I taught English – I would bright a couple packs on snacks, but the women would barely touch it. Then, the next week, I would bring leftovers.
      Eventually one of my friends (and students) told me it was impolite to serve leftovers. Even if no one ate anything, I should always bring a fresh, unopened bag of individually wrapped snacks to class. I could serve the “leftover” individually wrapped packages in the safety of my own home, but not at a lesson.

      I thought it was so bizarre.

      From then on out, I ate most of the snacks every week :)

  3. I love snacking and I’m glad Japanese do it every day. It’s so healthy and you can keep your metabolism running all the time. In China I snack on fruits and veggies :)

    • I think fruits and veggies make the PERFECT snack :)
      But pounded rice or cake also works in a pinch. Either way, I love how Japan has really sped up my metabolism.

      Does China also have daily and habitual snacking?

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