Plus Alpha is a weekly column that explores life in Japan from the perspective of American expatriate and game-industry veteran Jarik Sikat. Having worked in numerous areas of the game industry since 1994, Sikat relocated to Japan in 2010.
Lately in Plus Alpha, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about food. In Japan, however, it’s actually not that uncommon for gaming magazines to give a rundown of what new snack foods will be popping up at your nearby convenience store. This week, I simply couldn’t resist sharing even more examples of what happens when snacks and Japanese pop culture collide. It’s just that the results are irresistibly “Oishii!” (Delicious!)
Whether it’s sugar, coffee, manga or video games, addictions in Japan seem to start at a very young age. I would have liked to have been in the meeting where the Pokemon Company and dairy company Megmilk were choosing flavors for their line of Pokemon milk drinks for kids. There’s banana au lait, strawberry au lait, yogurt, and café au lait with real coffee! Wait, um… coffee? That’s what we should be giving hyperactive little Pokemon fans each morning – lots of caffeine and sugar! That aside, it tastes just as good as any canned coffee, plus it comes with a free sticker on the back of each Pikachu-yellow drink box.
Dragon Ball Heroes Snack 2 is a sweet corn puff with a much airier and lighter consistency than, say, Cheetos. According to the package, the white curly puffs are supposed to have a barbecue flavor, but it tastes more like cheese and shrimp. But what’s the hook? Each bag comes with one of 10 Dragon Ball Heroes collectible trading cards. Each card has an IC chip embedded within, so it can be used with the Dragon Ball Heroes arcade game.
We’re in the midst of one of the coldest winters here in recent years, but ice cream is popular year-round. Bandai didn’t need to wait until summer to unleash its Evangelion Ice. Each box comes with six individually wrapped bite-sized pieces of vanilla ice cream covered in a light chocolate coating. You could pop a piece in your mouth right from the wrapper, but that wouldn’t be classy. Included in each box is a fork that resembles the Lance of Longinus. So when you’re not penetrating AT-Fields, you could eat your ice cream in otaku style.
Made with 100 percent fresh Arabica beans, Wonda Morning Shot canned coffee promises “The Start of a Great Day” in each can. Mornings got even better with the launch of the Wonda Morning Shot Haruhi Suzumiya figure box set series. Each boxed set includes one can of coffee and one of five highly detailed sculpts. The figures come with their own base and stand at around four inches tall, about the same height as the coffee can. As for the shot of 100 percent fresh Arabica beans? I started drinking Morning Shot because of Wonda’s collaboration with idol group AKB48, but it’s a little too bitter for my taste. The boxed set retails for 980 yen (around US$13). Without the figure, you can buy the canned coffee, hot or cold, for a mere 88 yen.
Final Fantasy XIII-2’s Serah Farron and Noel Kriess grace the box of Japanese snackmaker Morinaga’s “Potelong”-brand fries. The name is a play on the words “potato” and “long”, but don’t let the name fool you: it’s a corn-based snack. If you’ve ever eaten Andy Capp’s Cheddar Fries or Hot Fries, you’ll have a good idea of what I’m talking about. The four-inch Potelongs have a lightly salted taste, but make up for that with a thick, crunchy consistency.
Kamen Rider last year celebrated its 40th anniversary. The venerable “tokusatsu” (a Japanese term referring to live-action hero and special effects-driven shows) has been on the Japanese airwaves every year since 1971, except during a hiatus in the ‘90s. The series continues to this day and also lives on with direct-to-video and theatrical features. No doubt a display of the franchise’s strength is having its own canned soda, Kamen Cider. “Cider” in Japan usually refers to a lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7Up, but Kamen Cider has a much sweeter, cream-soda taste. Sold mostly through vending machines by beverage company Dydo, the drink came in nine different cans, each honoring a different Kamen Rider generation. Prior to Kamen Cider’s launch, Dydo offered an Ultraman cola for a limited time.
Jarik Sikat has worked in the videogame industry in areas ranging from localization and product development to public relations and marketing. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine and Newtype USA.