Three Yummy Japanese Snack Souvenirs You Can Buy at Costco
When I first arrived in Japan in the summer of 2011, a bright-eyed, 23-year-old, soon-to-be English teacher in Gunma Prefecture, my new friend from the United States told me excitedly:
“You’ve come just at the right time; we’re getting a Costco!”
I smiled, raised my fists in a mild show of triumph, and cheered softly. My friend beamed and cheered along.
I didn’t tell him I had no idea what a Costco was
Costco Wholesale opened its first Japanese store in Fukuoka in 1999 and over the past 20 years has expanded across the nation, making Japan—with 26 warehouses in 18 prefectures—the Asian country with the most number of Costcos.
What does this mean for the Costco membership-card-carrying traveller?
You will be able to enter and purchase items at all of these 26 warehouses with your existing Costco membership card, no matter the country of issue.
Eight years ago, after finding out what a Costco was, I quickly assimilated into Costco culture, getting my membership card on my first visit to the Maebashi warehouse in Gunma Prefecture, the very store I’d pretended to be excited about. It wasn’t my first time in a retail warehouse, but one thing that struck me was how there weren’t just imported products, but a great range of domestic products as well.
Again, what does this mean for the Costco membership-card-carrying traveller?
You can buy things produced by Japanese manufacturers in bulk.
This includes, but is not limited to, snack souvenirs.
A favourite of my family’s, whenever they come to visit, is this chocolate crunch snack called ‘Black Thunder’.
Black Thunder, celebrating 25 years of tea-time sustenance in Japan, might seem like your run-of-the-mill mini chocolate bar, but it’s a lot more than that. To begin with, the chocolate isn’t overly sweet, and encased within it are two distinct flavors: a plain biscuit, and a cocoa-infused cookie. This is a simple pairing, but the contrast tickles one’s tastebuds in the most delectable of ways.
A ‘Big Share Bag’, as the locals call it, of Black Thunder from Costco is about 840 grams. A piece weighs 21 grams, which translates to a bag offering 40 pieces of chocolatey goodness. At 899 yen (tax inclusive), this is the cheapest you can get Black Thunder anywhere in Japan. Not even online retailers offer this price, and Costco is the sole distributor of this 840-gram bag.
Another popular snack that you can buy in bulk at Costco are Tabekko Animal Biscuits.
These butter biscuits are simple, crunchy, and pleasantly fragrant, but so is many a butter biscuit, so what sets these apart from the others?
Well, first of all, they’re hilarious. The game to play is flipping the biscuit with the word-side facedown and trying to guess what animal the shape is supposed to be. Here, try a hand at it:
Now for the answers:
And for the studious, you can find out the Japanese names of some animals—from bears to fur seals to macaws!—from the back of the packet:
Almost every Japanese person knows these as ‘the animal biscuit’, though, so if you mention ‘Tabekko’ to a Japanese friend they might not immediately get what you’re talking about!
Every box has 50 packets, and they’re going for a reasonable price of 1,348 yen (tax inclusive).
The final product this article is bringing you is Baby Star Ramen:
The first time I heard of Baby Star Ramen was when I was conducting an English lesson with two adults, trying to find out what their favourite foods were, and the 36-year-old who loved to snack while watching tennis games on cable asked me if I knew what ‘Baby Star’ was. When I said no, he started to wax lyrical about how great the dry ramen is as a snack.
“You pour it into your mouth straight from the packet, don’t you?” said the other student, a 38-year-old dad of two.
The 36-year-old laughed. “It’s bad manners, but that’s the best way to eat it.”
If you don’t get what they mean, here’s a picture to show you what Baby Star Ramen actually is:
It’s like the ramen equivalent of loose leaf tea, except you can actually eat it.
Baby Star Ramen has the distinct fabricated flavour of a salty chicken noodle, but is rather tasty with every strand packing a savoury punch. If you choose to eat it strand by strand, a small packet can last a relatively long time.
Also, if you look closely at the back of the packaging, you’ll see that it’s also recommended as a topping for salads. What a novel idea.
Each box from Costco contains 40 packets and retails at an affordable price of 948 yen.
These snacks are perfect as souvenirs for big groups, like your mates at the office or the bunch of children you teach at Sunday School. Here’s how they look like when compared to a 10 yen coin:
So the question is—where can you find a Costco?
Many Costcos are located in or near big cities, but a few are accessible by public transport. If you don’t have a car and are interested in visiting a Japanese Costco, here are some that are situated relatively near public transport hubs.
Kanto: Shin-Misato Warehouse in Misato, Saitama
JR Musashino Line Shin-Misato Station
Iruma Warehouse in Iruma, Saitama
Seibu Ikebukuro Line Iruma-shi Station, then a bus bound for 'Mitsui Outlet Park’ (Seibu Bus Stop 02)
Kanazawa Seaside Warehouse in Yokohama, Kanagawa
Kanazawa Seaside Line Sachiura Station
Kansai: Amagasaki Warehouse in Amagasaki, Hyogo
Hankyu Kobe Line Sonoda Station
If you’re in Tokyo, I recommend Shin-Misato, since it’s served directly by a major train line. If you’re in Osaka, Amagasaki is a very short train ride away. The Costco is about 20 minutes walk from the station, but bus services are also available.
Have fun shopping, and if you’re not driving there, remember to bring a suitcase!