Japan has lots of tasty foods that are popular in America: sushi, ramen, teriyaki and tempura everything (including tempura cheesecake!). But for all the delicious treats we’ve come to know and love, there are just as many things that would make even the most adventurous Western taste buds cringe and run for cover.
Candy in Japan, in particular, is notoriously wild. Some candy sounds worse than it is (toilet candy, anyone?), and some seemingly innocuous confections are really mouth-puckering atrocities waiting to kick-start your gag reflex. Some candies are mindbogglingly complex do-it-yourself creations, and others are just plain weird. Have you ever thought about a hamburger-flavored cough drop? Well, you’re about to. Are you bored with limited Kit Kat flavors? Japan’s about to make your dreams (or horrible recurring nightmares) come true.
Pop culture in Japan is fascinating, in general. It’s entertaining—mesmerizing even—and also puzzling and bizarre at times. With unique vending machines, a ton of different fashion subcultures, anime, manga and whatever this is, it’s no surprise that some of these eccentricities spill over into the food.
Wherever your taste preferences stand on the spectrum from sour to salty, from sweet to savory, there is no stone left unturned when it comes to candy’s absolute barrage on your palate from all directions. While many flavors can be chalked up to a difference of cultural opinion regarding what tastes good and what doesn’t, there is some that goes above and beyond “weird” and really took it too far.
22 Sasebo Burger Drops
Japan has a few food-flavored “drops,” but none seem to garner as much attention as the Sasesbo Burger Drops. Sasebo is a popular burger chain in Japan, so it only makes sense that someone would want to concentrate that flavor into something that looks like a throat lozenge…
Maybe the train of thought was along the lines of Willy Wonka’s “dinner” gum, or maybe what we’re seeing is food science gone awry (think about any old cartoon depicting the instant food from the future). Whatever the case may be, it probably wasn’t a good idea to put a sugar coating on a synthetic burger-flavored candy.
21 Toilet Candy
If there’s anything better in the candy world than foaming sugar mix that you slurp out of a tiny john, we haven’t found it yet. Moko Moko Mokolet fulfills your life-long fantasy of drinking from the toilet with a straw with their (somehow) popular fizzing toilet candy.
As you’ll see later in this list, Japan also likes candy with assembly instructions, and Moko Moko is no different. Assemble your own dollhouse-sized water closet (it comes in pieces attached to a plastic frame), pour the mix in the tank, add some water and in just a couple of seconds you have a foaming, fizzy, frothy, heady bowl of toilety goodness.
20 Gorilla Boogers
There are a lot of things on this list that only qualify as candy in a very technical sense. Legumes typically don’t find themselves in the same company of confections, but candy does have a long history of fun, gross-out names. “Gorilla Boogers” is no exception…because who doesn’t love the idea of snacking on monkey mucus?
If you still insist on trying a fresh batch of primate pickings, you’ll really just be eating shriveled, sweetened black beans that look a bit like raisins. If you’ve ever gotten a mini box of raisins for Halloween, Gorilla Boogers might actually be a welcome alternative.
19 Durian Candy
A fruit-flavored candy? That’s far too standard to be part of this list. It seems pretty normal at first, but anyone who’s had the misfortune of being in the same room as a Durian fruit can attest to just how absolutely disgusting it is.
Described so tantalizingly as “turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock,” the Durian fruit’s stench is noticeable even through its thick husk. The 50 chemical compounds found in the Durian are responsible for this distinctive stank, and the fruit’s ability to inhibit the breakdown of alcohol by your liver has even led to the rumor that getting drunk and eating Durian fruit at the same time can kill you.
18 Aha! Brain Candy
There’s evidence to support that sugar is an addictive substance, but it might be a stretch to call it a drug. If you’ve ever related to the episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine gets accustomed to the constant midday cake consumption in her office, you understand the realness of a good old-fashioned sugar jones. Not content to rely on sugar alone to hook its users, however, Japan’s Aha! Brain candy adds a variety of supplements to help your brain work better. Or something…
Aha! Brain comes in different flavors (or at least different colors) and they have different supplement options, like GABA, BCAA and Forskolin. So next time you’ve got a hankering for some Forskolin, grab a box of Aha! Brain—which comes complete with brain teasers.
17 Gummy Collagen Candy
In America, the first thing we tend to think of when we think of collagen is lip injections, like the ones that give those Kardashian lips that oh-so-desired extra pout. There are studies that argue collagen consumption actually has medical benefits, like reversing skin aging, building muscle, burning fat and getting rid of pesky cellulite.
Taking ordinary collagen supplements is so pedestrian, however, when you can just as easily eat a bag full of collagen candy balls. The candy-medicine maniacs at Kracie (the same who make “man smelling gum”) came up with a rose-flavored, chewy collagen candy infused with hyaluronic acid. Skin care and candy in one…
16 Tamagogani (Candied Baby Crabs)
So, you’ve got your most recent Snack Crate, and now you’re a well-traveled snack connoisseur. You have explored the zaniest potato chips in the world, from the ketchup-flavored chips of Canada to the Mediterranean-spiced chips of Turkey. Now what? Meet Tamagogani—Japan’s answer to the boring, eyeless candied chips of the planet. While some confections hide their true form in a deceptive layer of chocolate or sugar, there’s no getting around what these are: candied baby crabs.
Tamagogani are baked when their shells are still soft as youngins, then freeze-dried and candied. Sure, they look awful, but how do they taste? Let us know…because we’re probably not going to get around taste-testing this one.
15 DIY Miniature Ramen Candy Kit
This is an interesting concept. Is it ramen-flavored candy, or candy that looks like ramen? One of the best and worst parts of candy in Japan is you probably won’t know until it’s too late. In this case, it’s candy that looks like ramen.
The reason miniature ramen candy is on this list, however, isn’t because of what it tastes like or looks like. It’s the arduous experience of hand-crafting your own candy ramen that puts this one over the top. Japan’s “impossible” ramen candy takes a pair of scissors, several packets, hand-molding your own dumplings and piping your own noodles through a plastic bag.
14 Wild-Flavored Cheetos
Weird-flavored Pepsi (salty watermelon, ice cucumber, etc.) in Japan might have a soul mate in a crunchy, cheesy counterpart. Strawberry Cheetos, which are available only in the Land of the Rising Sun, are one of many in a long-line of interesting flavors for the popular cheese snack. But Strawberry Cheetos alone—that’s way too tame for the same country that brought us “vanilla butt pudding.” So how about Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos?
We’d like to think that Mountain Dew Cheetos originated when a gamer, in the middle of a Dew-fueled Monster Hunter frenzy, spilled the neon liquid into a Cheetos bag. But it was probably just a product of convenience since Pepsi already owned Lay’s.
13 Otoko Kaoru (Man Smell Gum)
Japan sure has a lot of different ideas on what tastes good versus what might make someone retch. People in Japan also have a different view of what a man should smell like, and also what the purpose of gum and candy should be; they’re not content with gum being gum for the sake of chewing.
Otoko Kaoru gum, or “Man Small Gum” from Kracie has a potent menthol and rose fragrance that, when chewed, is absorbed into the digestive tract. From there, it is supposedly then secreted through your skin and makes you smell as fresh as a vapor-rub bouquet.
12 Shigekix Super Cola Sour Candy
As a preface to this particular segment, it's worth noting that Japan just recently, in 2018, is trying their hand at something Gen Xers got a healthy dose of in the '90s: clear soda.
At least Shigekix Super Cola Sour Candy is legitimately a candy, we’ll give it that. But these insanely sour candies are also very chewy and strangely packaged. The words “cola” and "soda" evidently doesn’t mean the same thing in Japan as it does in America, and some of the Shigekix packaging leads you to believe you’re about to eat a soda-flavored gum drop.
11 Giant Jellyfish Candy
What to do with a six-foot-wide, 440-pound giant jellyfish? These Echizen Kirage became a nuisance to fisheries and other aspects of the country's ecology when they started showing up in large numbers. So the only logical thing to do was start turning them into candy.
The confections were developed by students at Obama Fisheries High School (what did YOU do in high school?) and are a caramel-based candy flavored with a powder that’s made from the (potentially poisonous) Echizen Kirage. With such a surplus on hand, it’s only a matter of time before the jellies find their way into every other aspect of culinary life in Japan, perhaps even replacing the ubiquitous squid.
10 Chocolate-Covered Dried Squid
And here we have one more entry for the squid, if only to pay homage for the love the locals have for this crazy candy cephalopod. We’ve seen candied squids, fried octopus-ball soda and that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Strange, chocolate-covered things aren’t new…we’ve seen chocolate covered grasshoppers, crickets and other dipped insects. Depending on your significant other’s slant on seafood, choco squid treats could either be a unique Valentine’s Day gift, or a clever way to break up. Of course, you can go DIY on this one as well and just boil your squids alive and dip them in homemade chocolate yourself.
9 Tomato Candy
If you’re vegetarian, or if you don’t have the guts to look a candied baby crab in the eyes before chomping into its freeze-dried innards, then maybe tomato candy is the best place to start if you’re going to get into Japan's candy. At this point, since nothing phases us, we’ll skip over the absurdity that tomato would ever be in candy form to begin with.
Tomato candy is another love or hate treat, and it all probably depends on your frame of mind. If you feel like a salty bowl of tomato soup but want the convenience of a candy drop…you’re a rare breed. But if you’re looking for something that tastes more like candy (maybe try this tomato chocolate instead!) then it will be sure to disgust.
8 Crazy-Flavored Kit Kat Bars
Break yourself off a piece of that wasabi-flavored goodness when you bite into one of Japan’s favorite Kit Kat flavors. Wasabi sounds too pleasant to you? How about a grilled potato-flavored Kit Kat? Soybean? French Salt? How about something called “College Tater” Kit Kats?
Not all of Japan’s Kit Kat flavors sound bad at all, but the ones that cross the line do so with great gusto. Salt watermelon again? Chocolate grilled potato? The list is pretty extensive, and while you can feel safe knowing that at least the general format is the same (two crispy, rectangle bars), there’s no way to tell if Red Bean Paste Kit Kats are a traumatic experience or a welcome reprieve for your taste buds.
7 Candied Squids
If you thought candied baby crabs were good, wait until you get a load of candied squid! Do you suppose once you get a taste for squid that it’s just one of those things you can’t get enough of? That could be one reason why squid finds its way into chips, drops candy, drinks, jerky and more.
Candied squid comes in your favorite, traditional candy flavors…like kimchi and cod roe (i.e. fish eggs). This, of course, totally makes sense when you consider that squid has no place in candy to begin with. But it makes no sense whatsoever if you’re going to label it candy. Japan, explain. We are confusion.
6 Scallop Candy
There’s certainly no shortage of seafood-related treats from Japan, but most of them are more logically marketed and produced as chips or just general “snacks.” Putting the candy tag on seafood treats is a bold move, but evidently these scallop candies are sweet enough to fall in that category.
The candy scallop is probably very similar to some of the squid candies mentioned on this list…it’s dried scallops covered in a sweet sauce. It makes sense to say that if you can get over what you thought was candy before, you might be able to acquire a taste for some of these sundried seafood sweets.
5 Takoyaki Ramune (Fried Octopus Soda)
It’s a hot day in Tokyo…you walk past the banana vending machines, amble salted watermelon Pepsi stands and skirt right around the curry lemonade stands. Because on a sunny day in Japan, when you’re parched there’s nothing like throwing back a couple of cold, bubbly pints of octopus dough balls.
Yeah. Ramune is a popular fizzy drink in Japan (sometimes with candy inside the bottle) that can be tricky to open, but in general the flavors aren’t anything to make you feel queasy. But you know if it’s on this list, someone down the line had to take it too far, and now we have Takoyaki (fried octopus balls, basically) flavored soda.
4 Salted Salmon Puccho
People who really get into sushi typically start off with something milder, like the California roll, and then graduate to more challenging fare, like salmon sashimi. So once you’ve gotten used to the taste and texture of salmon sashimi, why not go all-in and grab a pack of Puccho?
Puccho is a chewy candy that traditionally comes in flavors like grape. For this version, the two-toned candy is grey on top and pink on the bottom, with real salmon flakes stuffed in the middle. Some report the candy actually only tastes vaguely like salmon, but isn’t “vaguely” still a bit much for candy?
3 Grilled Lamb Caramels
Some candy names are deceiving, or ambiguous at best. This is not the case with grilled lamb caramels…they’re exactly what you think they are. Caramels flavored like lamb. We’re not sure who decided that two perfectly fine (and extremely different) types of food needed to be combined into one, but we’ll give an A+ for creativity. Peanut butter and chocolate. Cookies and milk. Caramel and lamb. No longer will humankind have to go to two separate stores to sate the endless craving for ovine and sugar.
Genghis Khan caramels might be your thing if you really want some lamb curry on the go…and want to consume it in chewy, juicy squares.
2 DIY Poppin' Cookin' Candy Kit Gummies
Continuing the fascination with oddly complex DIY candy, Poppin’ Cookin’ Candy Kit Gummies put you in the role of candy factory line-worker…which, to be fair, seems like something a kid might envision as a dream job.
The reality of the situation, however, is that if you want some hot gummy action, you’ll have to use four plastic molds, a multi-compartment plastic tray, water, a bunch of different flavor mixes—granted they’re much more normal flavors than what you’ll find elsewhere on this list—and some very rudimentary chemistry chops. The best part is that, according to this video, lemon flavor + grape flavor = orange flavor. Alchemy!
So maybe it doesn’t taste too bad, but the staggering amount of effort required just can’t make the artificial juice worth the all-too-real squeeze.
1 Sweet Corn & Soy Sauce Drops
Again we find ourselves in the struggle, pulling on the loose threads of logic that hold the word “candy” in place against something so salty as soy sauce. But because there are sweet elements, and because they’re packaged into symmetrical little drops in a box, you’re likely to fnd these fun little pearls in candy stores in Japan.
While sweet corn and soy sauce sounds entirely palatable, it’s the strange fascination with synthesizing flavors, putting them in drop form and calling them candy that makes this whole situation bizarre. We suppose if there were a gateway drug into savory candy, this might be the place to start. But until Jetsons-era food science is perfected, the real thing might still be a better call.