Note: Like monster movies, martial arts, and cartoon pornography, the Japanese are the only ones in the world who have managed to refine and re-imagine snack foods in a way that can only be described as art. Whether they're wacky, cute, insane, or just plain delicious, we've got a major thing for Japanese snacks at SEHQ. A few weeks back, I took a trip out to Mitsuwa in Edgewater—the largest Japanese supermarket in the United States—where I went on a minor shopping spree and bought every single candy they have on sale.
If you were anything like me, you really really wanted these as a kid. What? I get candy and a toy?!?, I'd think to myself. These treats were reserved only for when I did extra well on my math test, or managed to trick my mom into letting my grandmother take me with her to the Japanese grocery store unchaperoned.
You see, the Japanese figured it all out: what makes a kid want that box of cereal? It's the toy, right? I could see a box of Blistered Snarglepuffs, but as long as it came with a Star Wars action figure, I couldn't care less about how good the cereal tasted. It had to be mine.
Japanese Toy/Candy combos reverse the food/plaything relationship. In the vast majority of these packages, the candy itself is nothing but a token sugary wafer, disposed of within moments so that you can focus on the action. Like the stick of crunchy gum in the pack of Garbage Pail Kids, it exists only so that the companies making them have an excuse to ask the stores to stock them with the other snackfoods.
The Glico caramels (pictured at the top) are perhaps the oldest form of this treat that I recognize from when I was a kid. In those days, they actually put a little bit more effort into the candy, and Glico still offers you a full four pieces of soft, sweet caramel to go with their hand-painted wooden toys
Modern toys tend to go more along TV show and Anime lines. Robots, bikini babes, ninjas, mechanical dinosaurs, and the like, and is it just me, or did they use to have more moving parts than they do now?
There was one toy that managed to save my memory of awesomeness for me: the Anpanman bath toys. For those of you who don't know him, Anpanman is the most popular cartoon character in Japan—he's had his own comics/TV shows consistently since 1968. His head is made from a bun filled with red bean paste (an from the Japanese for "red bean," and pan from the Japanese/Portuguese for bread), from which he draws his power (he never has to eat or drink).
Whenever Anpanman gets injured, his Uncle Jam bakes him a new head to replace the old one. Weird, right?
Anpanman is particularly susceptible to water (he doesn't like getting wet!), which is ironic, considering that this toy asks you to pour water on his head as he happily flies through your bathroom. Who's your favorite cartoon character with a cake for a head? (If you don't have one, make one up.)