As someone that enjoys sweets and especially someone that has fond childhood memories with kit-kats, Japan’s long list of kit-kat flavors is a veritable wonderland. The phenomenon of different flavored kit-kats is a tourist attraction in itself with stores that are only dedicated to the Nestle chocolates being located in many Japanese cities.
Despite its domestic competitor Meiji Chocolate remaining an overall top-seller, kit-kats have become an increasingly important part of Japanese sweets. Part of their success is based on the false cognate Kitto Kattsu (You will surely win) and their role as good luck gifts/charms for students ahead of examinations. Another important aspect of Kit-kats in Japan is the scarcity of finding different flavors. Nestle has taken significant steks in creating flavor that are unique to prefectures, cities, towns and shops meaning that outside of those areas there is little to no chance to find those flavors. Paired with Japan’s tradition of bringing back souvenirs or omiyage means that these local kit-kat flavors are treasured when someone receives them from friends and family.
Chocolate in Japan is in large part a relatively recent import dating back to Allied occupation following WWII. Chocolates are much sweeter than Japan’s traditional sweets and thus people tend to consume them in smaller quantities thereby allowing kit-kat varieties to flourish. Japanese kit-kats tend to not be as sweet as chocolates in the U.S. which in turn allows for the flavor to be the main centerpiece rather than be overpowered by sugar.
Since 2000 when production of kit-kats began in Japan itself, there have been more than 300 flavors of the chocolate wafers that have been created as both regional and seasonal flavors with many of these being limited edition. Some of the most notable flavors of that can be found range anywhere from Japanese style flavors such as the ever-present matcha, the delicate flavor of Kinako or the strong taste of Wasabi — to rather strange flavors like European cheese, Sake or Ramune. In addition to regional and seasonal items there are kit-kat stores that provide a gourmet experience with pricey items created by Chef Yasumasa Takagi that might include kit-kats wrapped in gold leaf, or a blend of raspberry and dark chocolate that can cost several hundred yen.
In the world of crazy varieties of kit-kat flavors Chef Takagi’s innovations and experimentation with flavor combinations makes him king but it’s Nestle’s marketing campaign that has been most effective at cementing the kit-kat as an important, curious and weird item in Japan.