There are so many big cultural touchstones that draw people to Japan from across the globe. Manga and anime, sushi and tempura, bullet trains and sports cars, rakugo and Noh, sumo and karate; the list seems endless. And don’t forget about karaoke. Perhaps there are some people out there who are even drawn to Japan’s highly structured bureaucratic processes and reliance on hierarchical conformity. It takes all sorts to make the world go round.
While I myself have an affinity for some items on this list, I have also found that there are other, less monumental elements that help make everyday life in Japan pleasant. These small joys are not unique to Japan; mundane things that nonetheless bring a smile exist in every nation. But Japan seems to have an abundance of these items, small trinkets and actions that can make a difficult day just a tad easier.
For me, the image included with this article is one such small item. It is a set of five small candy boxes from Meiji, one of Japan’s largest confectioneries. This particular collection is targeted to children. All of the five boxes are small, each containing a tiny handful of chocolate-and-something. From left to right:
- Marble – Candy-coated chocolate, along the lines of M&Ms.
- Choco Baby – Small pieces of extruded chocolate.
- Coffee Beat – Slightly crunchy chocolate with a hint of coffee taste.
- Apollo – Soft chocolate- and strawberry-flavored treats, shaped like the Apollo spacecraft.
- Banana Choco – Chocolate pieces wrapped in a banana-flavored candy shell.
I think I paid ¥130 for the set, just over $1 USD. If you are looking for high-grade Belgium chocolates, these aren’t them. They are instead kid-friendly snacks with kid-quality flavors, all for a price that will have a parent saying, “OK, sure; throw them in the shopping cart.” And yet, there is something about these simple chocolates with their campy packaging that draws me to them. I am well into my middle-age years, but I still buy these Meiji chocolates once or twice a year. There are other choices in the candy section that I actually like better. And yet this week, I passed those up for the joy of having kiddie candy.
Some days, life is difficult. Taxes were due earlier this week for all Japanese residents. The day before that deadline, the entire e-Tax web site, which allows people to submit their returns online, went down. I submitted my return on paper this year, so I don’t know if the site came back up in time for those looking to use the web-based system. But even when such everyday complications do occur, there are small joys in life—a familiar jingle playing on the train platform, cherry blossom petals floating through the air, a small Sanrio character charm dangling from a businessman’s briefcase, and of course these small Meiji chocolates—that can somehow bring a tiny bit of sparkle to even the most trying day.