One writer discovers that a mission to find every last of the whacky, weird Kit Kat flavors native to Japan can easily become an unstoppable obsession.
I was sitting at dinner in Milan with a group of media types when the subject of all the strange Kit Kat flavors came up. A quick Google search yielded the vast array that stretched further than the matcha with which Americans are familiar: Soy Sauce! Soybean! Melon! Hokkaido Melon! Blueberry Cheesecake! Cherry Blossom! Fruit Parfait! The list went on and on. As it was, I was set to go on a business trip to Tokyo in two weeks.
“You have to get all the flavors,” instructed a member of the dinner party. “We’re going to have a Kit Kat tasting when you return to New York.”
As the cliché goes, “you always want what you can’t have,” and since most of the flavors aren’t available in the United States, I made it my mission to return from Japan with as many of them as possible.
Kit Kats first arrived in Japan in 1970 when Rowntree’s, the English candy company behind Kit Kats (now owned by Nestlé), made a deal with the retail chain Fujiya. Funnily enough, “Kit Kat” sounds so close to “kitto katsu”—the Japanese term for “you will surely win” that it helped make the wafer-filled candy bar a success there. Green tea was introduced in 2004, and since then, there have been some 300 varieties of Kit Kat flavors produced.
Two weeks later I arrived in Japan bleary-eyed after a some 20 hours of travel. The next morning I hit the ground running with a tour of the Imperial Palace. The attempt at touristy Tokyo became a wash after a downpour took away a chunk of the time there. “Let’s go hunt for Kit Kats,” said my colleague after our tour ended. Wide-eyed and excited, we headed to the 7-Eleven beneath the Imperial Hotel. It was the lunch rush, and the Japanese love to line up for Onigiri and the other assorted Japanese dishes there. We meandered our way through the aisles and the long line in the convenience store, and when we arrived at the candy bar section, all we saw was the regular variety.
Disappointed but not defeated, we decided to go straight to the source, and hopped in a taxi to the closest Kit Kat Chocolatory—the Kit Kat speciality shop and café. We were greeted with Kit Kats that were sold in an environment that felt like a luxury chocolatier. There, you could get individually packaged Kit Kats or boxes with a variety of flavors: Pistachio Raspberry, Butter, Green Tea, Strawberry Maple, and more. But these weren’t the Kit Kats we were searching for; they were fancie—and thus pricier than the ones we found on the internet. We decided to leave empty handed and to continue the hunt.
That night after dinner we paid a visit to FamilyMart and 7-Eleven, the two convenience stores next to our hotel near Ginza, and there were only two flavors: regular and green tea. We bought a few bags to bring back to our room to snack on and decided to give it another go the following day.
“We have to go to Don Quijote,” said my colleague, who had sought out the advice of a Japanese friend.
By happenstance, we spotted one a Don Quijote Platinum while walking in Minato. We went inside, and after snagging bottles of Tsubaki shampoo and conditioner—its main ingredient, the Camellia flower, which makes your hair lustrous—I finally found piles of bags of Kit Kats, but to my chagrin, there were only five flavors: banana, green tea, raspberry and yogurt topped with dried berries. I took two bags of each and dropped them off at my hotel before taking off to Roppongi, where there was another Don Quijote location.
We climbed through the city’s hills, stopping at the various FamilyMarts and 7-Elevens on the way. Usually there was the regular flavor and maybe one other variety—green tea or mint, but nowhere near the number of flavors I thought I would find before my trip. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Don Quijote and there it was: the Kit Kat jackpot I had been searching for. Sake! Wasabi! Shinshu Apple! Strawberry Cheesecake! Three kinds of matcha! Purple Yam! Adzuki! There were even flavors that I couldn’t decipher that came with images of pastries filled with red bean as well as a brandy snifter and grapes. I grabbed two bags of a handful of flavors, but I still wanted more. I was hooked. At that point, my Kit Kat hunt went from being a mission to an obsession, and I had yet to find the Hokkaido Melon flavor I so desperately wanted to try.
Our Kit Kat intel told us that there was one last place to find them: the airport. We went to Haneda, and I decided to scan the shopping area so I could strategize my final Kit Kat haul. There were even more flavors—Chocolate-Covered Banana, Grape—and the Hokkaido Melon I had been salivating over. I purchased my final Kit Kat flavors at the Duty Free.
I got on my flight feeling satisfied, eager to try out all the flavors I collected. While I still have yet to try Wasabi, the strangest flavor I brought back with me to New York, the rest were indeed worth the hunt and the 16-hour flights to get them. Japanese Kit Kat mission accomplished.