Celebrate the Differences: Japanese Sweets vs. American Sweets

By Donald Ash | Articles

If there’s one thing I love, it’s eating sweets. You name it and I probably have will have a craving for it at some point in the near future: chocolate…guilty, ice-cream…guilty, cookies…guilty, caramel…guilty, pudding…guilty, doughnuts…guilty…. Sometimes I wonder if there is a hell for people who eat too much junk food. If there is, I’m probably the first person on that guest list. It kind of sucks though, because I really love exercising too. The problem with sweets (especially the American ones) is there are enough crunchy, chewy, gooey calories in one sinful bite to ruin a day’s workout. Nevertheless, I eat them anyway. Being in Japan, though, I realize that my sweet tooth has diminished a bit, and I DO only mean a bit. Let’s be honest…if you put some Oreos in front of me right now, it might be wise to put them down and back away quickly, lest I confuse your hand with one of the most addictive snacks ever made. I digress. The reason I have less of sweet tooth is because Japanese sweets are simply a lot less sweet.

Okashi,おかし, as they are called in Japanese sweets employ the use of a lot less caramel, nougat, nuts, and all of those other frightfully fattening ingredients that we use in the United States. This past spring, in Kyoto, I remember having a Japanese sweet called Yatsuhashi やつはし. Yatsuhashi was a very light, soft, doughy snack (made from rice flour) with ankou on the inside. Anko in essence is a sweet bean that’s ground into paste or jam and is used in many of Japanese okashi. I thought the Yatsuhashi were indeed delicious, but not at all what I’m used to. I really think these Japanese treats are more flavorful than they are sweet…if that makes any sense. I also think Japanese sweets make use of more natural ingredients. I remember eating okashi made from sweet potatoes (although I can’ remember the name) which were pretty tasty, too. It’s so interesting, many Japanese people that I’ve run into are quite health-conscious, and they’re able to eat junk food in moderation. It’s also interesting to see that many Japanese people find American sweets to be TOO sweet. I wish I shared the same mentality.

Chocolate bars in Japan are really good, too, but they’re often the flat, thin bars (a lot like Crunch Bars I’d say). I’ve seen many bars with the rice crisps inside. Aside from nuts or maybe cookie pieces, I can’t think of a whole lot of other things that are added to Japanese candy bars.

You know what else is different? I don’t see king-sized anything here. There aren’t king-sized Japanese sweets. Japan does have Snickers, Milky Way, and three Musketeers, and more, but there are no king-sized bars to speak of (at least from what I’ve seen). Ah America and that land of excess mentality, it’s so fascinating…but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Honestly, I think there quite a few Japanese sweets that I haven’t even had the pleasure of trying yet, but in due time…I will. The majority of the okashi I’ve tried use the red bean paste, which I think is wonderful (but not everyone agrees). In general, from what I’ve seen…from cookies to ice cream to candy bars, Japanese sweets are smaller and and usually not as sweet as what I’ve become accustomed to in the U.S.. If you’re a sweets fanatic, don’t worry because the ice cream at Baskin Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery just as sweet as was in the U.S., Snickers bars, Oreos, Milky Ways, and all of those are still just sugary and just as fattening as you remember. But if you want to cut down on some sugar and fat, and still good a pretty good-tasting sweet in the process, Why not give Japanese okashi a try?

All things in moderation (I need to remember that),

Donald Ash


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Joshua Kramer says:

    Donald this is Josh. I sent interview to your email. I am sorry it took much longer than expected.

    -Originally, I told you that I did not think that I would be required
    to write your exact response in my report. I was wrong.

    I will be required to quote your responses exactly as you write them.

    Thanks for the help.

    • admin says:

      No problem, Josh. I will take a look at the interview questions today. I’ll get back to you as soon as I possibly can.

  • LanceT says:

    I’ve tried a dough-ball with Anko in it one time. It was definitely unique flavor that people seem to either love or hate. It has a perceived sweetness yet the flavor of the bean is just as powerful. As luck would have it, I quite enjoyed the flavor and would like to try the many variations of snacks that feature Anko.

    Enjoy the tasty things in life, you never know when you may have the chance to experience it again. But as always, with a dose of moderation. 😉

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