Japan is not an easy country to say goodbye to. I love the faded paper on our home’s shoji screens; I love the smiling cashier at Lawson who always talks to Brent and I about the beer we’re buying; I love speaking Japanese, in general – it’s such a lovely-sounding language and I’m just on the cusp of being able to have real conversations in it; I love going for morning runs along the river, breathing the clean mountain air; and riding my oversized-basket bike to pick up groceries, or to my favourite café to write and sip a gingerbread latte.
Among the thousands of little Japan goodbyes we had to say this month, it was also time to let go of our Kit Kat collection. Every time we visited a new city or a new season arrived, we found a different flavour of Kit Kat sold in stores. Each time we bought a new box, we left one Kit Kat aside, and over our year in Japan, our freezer gradually filled up with a rainbow of colourful packages. On our last night in Japan, we spread the collection out on our kitchen table, tearing open packages and talking about where we bought each one.
Matcha Kit Kat makes me think of my very first days in Japan. Brent and I spent our first week doing teacher training in Tajimi, a relatively un-noteworthy town in Gifu Prefecture. We ambled around a grocery store across the street from our hotel, slack-jawed as we stared at all the weird foods and products. We bought a bag of Matcha Kit Kats – the first flavoured Kit Kats we had ever seen – and took them back to our tiny hotel room. Crouched on the bed, we ate the Kit Kats while talking about how amazed we felt to be in Japan.
Red Bean Kit Kat was one of my first impressions of our future home in the Japanese Alps. After our week of training, our managers drove us north to our new home in Hida-Takayama. We stopped at a service centre along the highway, where we found Red Bean Kit Kats. This was also the first time I saw one of Japan’s insanely immaculate service centers. In addition to tidy shops selling local foods and souvenirs, the washrooms have light-up grid screens at the entrance, showing which stalls are occupied and which are available.
For one of my first trips in Japan, I took a bus south through the winding Japanese Alps that surround Takayama to Kyoto. I wandered the lantern-lit streets of Gion, and rode buses around the city, visiting beautiful temples crowded with giggling teenagers. I also found what continues to be my favourite Kit Kat ever, Cinnamon Cookie. Modeled after Kyoto’s famous cinnamon treat, yatsuhashi, this Kit Kat has a spiced cinnamon sugary flavour, which is super delicious.
Passion Fruit Kit Kat reminds me of the arrival of Takayama’s long-awaited summer. As temperatures started to warm up, the fun, fruity Passion Fruit Kit Kat arrived in stores. During the summer, Brent and I took road trips – with our windows rolled down and maps non-existent – to all the little towns and villages around Takayama. We rode our bikes to Takayama’s Edo-period shops and drank refreshing sake samples from the breweries.
Cookies and Cream
In July, we skipped the humidity in central Japan and headed north to Hokkaido Prefecture. Arriving in Hokkaido was almost like entering a different country, with cool temperatures, rolling Dutch-style flower fields, and Westernized buildings. We gorged on Sapporo beer (named for Hokkaido’s capital) and some of Japan’s best seafood, before spotting Cookies and Cream Kit Kat in one of the convenience stores.
I have a particular fondness for Blueberry Cheesecake Kit Kat because we bought it after climbing Mount Fuji, one of my favourite experiences in Japan. The packaging even has a little picture of Mount Fuji on it, reminding me of aching knees, crunching volcanic rocks under foot, and sleeping beside hundreds of other sweat-soaked climbers. With a sweet, exceptionally cheesecake-y flavour, this Kit Kat is runner up as my favourite.
In September, we drove to Nagano Prefecture to walk the ancient Nakasendo trail between Magome and Tsumago. Chili Kit Kat reminds me of walking the quiet trail between the two towns, along a path lined with shady trees. At the end of our walk, we found Chili Kit Kat in one of the touristy shops in Tsumago. It has the strangest flavor – it starts out tasting like regular chocolate, but then surprises you with a biting chili aftertaste.
Thousands of visitors come to Takayama every October for the town’s famous Fall Festival, and it was around this time that seasonal Pumpkin Kit Kat appeared in stores. Each year, the festival’s success is a bit of a gamble because the hundred-year-old floats can’t be brought out of storage if the weather is rainy. The first day of the festival was rained out, but the second day was sunny and as hot as a summer day. One of my adult students took Brent and I downtown to watch the puppet shows, look at the beautiful floats, and eat too much festival food.
Apple Kit Kat reminds me of visiting Matsumoto, home to one of Japan’s only original castles. Casting its reflection in the lake below, Matsumoto Castle is all swooping roofs and aged black wood. It was beautiful the first time we saw it during the daytime, crowded with tourists; but it was even lovelier when we went back a few months later at night. The castle was lit up by a white spotlight and everything around it was eerily silent.
Tea Kit Kat reminds me of our last road trip, driving our mini-Pajero to Osaka. Two of our friends from Canada came to visit, and we had less than 24-hours in what I consider to be one of Japan’s most awesome cities. We strolled down the bright, crowded streets of Dotonbori, burned our mouths on takoyaki, and got in over our heads trying to get our money’s worth on a nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink special).
As we crumpled up the last wrapper, I realized that our year in Japan was officially over.
What unusual souvenirs do you keep to remember your travels?