If you're familiar with Japanese popular culture, you've probably heard the hype about Japanese snacks from the konbini, or Japanese convenience store food. They're excellently curated, they come in surprising flavors, and they're the carrot (or rather, Pocky) on a stick fueling me to write my graduate thesis! Whenever I'm feeling stressed about life in a foreign country, the konbini is there on every street corner to remind me of the real reason I packed it up and moved 7000 miles away from everyone I know: for the glorious splendor of Japanese snack food. So let's roam the colorful aisles of Lawson, 7-Eleven, and FamilyMart with 11 recommendations for popular Japanese konbini snacks!
As an American, what strikes me as special about Japanese snacks is the unexpectedly accurate flavors. If a Japanese gummy says it tastes like peach, that likely means it tastes like an actual peach fruit, not an artificial approximation. Also, seasonal varieties of konbini food come and go notoriously quickly, so look out for tags that say "New" (新) or "Limited Time" (期間限定) so you don't miss them!
Here are my criteria when looking for the best snacks in Japan:
Whether it's an old standby like Famichiki or a new twist on a favorite like cherry blossom Pocky, you can't go wrong with any of the following tasty treats.
Here are eleven recommended Japanese convenience store foods at your local konbini.
1. Calbee Jagabee
2. Seasonal Pocky
3. Black Thunder
4. Konbini Sandwiches
5. Fresh Hot Convenience Store Food
7. Limited Time Ice Cream
8. Limited Time Breads
10. Kirin Strong Chuuhai
11. Wine/Sake in a Juice Box
Calbee Japan makes many of the most popular Japanese crackers and chips, but Calbee Jagabee potato sticks stand out proudly among them. In contrast to Jagariko, a more brittle Calbee snack, Jagabee provides a heartier crunch and rich flavor reminiscent of its glory days as a real potato. I especially recommend my all-time favorite savory Japanese snack, the shoyu (soy sauce) butter flavor of Jagabee!
When you think of popular snacks in Japan, for many foreigners, Pocky naturally springs to mind! Pocky Japan loves to innovate on the already winning premise of chocolate on a biscuit stick, so keep your eyes peeled for special seasonal varieties like heart-shaped cherry blossom in the spring, lemon in the summer, and even Japanese sweet potato in the fall. My top-tier flavor is Winter Butter Caramel Pocky (冬のきらめき), which is so addictive I'd pay Glico to keep it in stock year round!
One of the lesser known snacks to buy in Japan is Black Thunder, a sleeper hit that's bound to have you renewing your visa! Black Thunder is a chocolate-covered candy bar with a cocoa cookie base and Japanese rice puffs, forming a crispy chocolatey delight. Look out for the many twists on this old favorite available in the konbini! In my experience, the custard apple pie flavor and Shittori Premium made with fresh cream are the ones to beat.
Japanese convenience stores are handy not only for their plethora of snacks, but also their quick and easy meal options when traveling. All konbini have a refrigerated section with perfectly triangular sandwiches, filled with quality goodies such as teriyaki chicken katsu, tuna and lettuce, egg, and even special offerings like blueberry jam and whipped cream from time to time!
The must-try Japanese convenience store foods includes a variety of hot, fresh food kept in glass containers at the register. Here you'll find treats such as the all-powerful Famichiki, FamilyMart's beloved take on impossibly juicy fried chicken, piping hot nikuman meat buns, and occasionally special Hello Kitty-shaped cream buns. A pivotal part of appreciating Japanese junk food is having your world rocked by Famichiki, so I recommend ordering it at least once!
When it comes to Japanese sweet snacks, baumkuchen takes the cake for me! Technically a German dessert that became disproportionately popular in Japan, baumkuchen is many razor-thin layers of cake baked into a ring of soft deliciousness I didn't know I needed. I constantly spot new spins on the classic cake in the konbini, so check both the regular dessert section and the refrigerated section to join my mission to try them all!
No listing of konbini snacks would be complete without a ringing endorsement of Japanese ice cream! The goodies in the konbini freezers rotate within weeks or even days, so check often for seasonal treats like white peach Coolish or custard ice cream melon pan. Whether it's a hazelnut praline ice cream bar with black currant jam from FamilyMart (pictured above) or some other fleeting beauty gone too soon, you'll want to stock up with haste if you find a favorite!
Out of all Japanese convenience store food, the special breads are my oldest and fondest standby. While classics like melon pan and curry pan may be the saviors of any foreigner looking for a safe but yummy lunch, the bread aisle is often rife with innovations! Keep an eye out for zany new varieties like kinako whipped cream bread or strawberry steamed cakes.
If you're hungry for some traditional Japanese wagashi sweets, I especially recommend 7-Eleven Japan snacks! 7-Eleven's original line of wagashi-inspired desserts ranges from matcha cookies to yomogi daifuku to red bean rice cakes, so you can sample a wide variety of unique Japanese confections for cheap.
Thirsty for some crisp alcohol to wash down all those Japanese snacks? For me, no trip to a konbini is complete without picking up a tall can of chuuhai, a popular Japanese alcoholic drink that comes in tons of fruity flavors. The seasonal flavors of Kirin Strong, like mixed berry and double ume (Japanese plum), score especially well in my book!
An honorable mention goes to these charming little juice boxes filled with one single serving of sake or wine, found in the alcohol section of some konbini. For the novelty factor, I recommend trying an Oni Killer box of sake, just to say you've washed out your inner demons!
Japanese konbini represent many of the wonderful aspects of Japan, filled with colorful novelties, unexpected flavors, and a special appreciation for the changing of the seasons. Whether you're hunting for the perfect Japanese snack food to satisfy your cravings or in need of a quick but quality meal on the go, I hope the konbini brings as much joy to your life as it does to mine!
For more tips on what to pick up at your local Japanese konbini, read the Beginner's Guide to Common Onigiri Fillings!