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REVIEW / Japan Crate unboxing redux

 

Japan Crate was the first Japanese candy subscription service I ever reviewed, a 5-star experience that would set the bar by which all future boxes would be judged. But in the many months since – my once naive taste buds having sampled a variety of different, delicious candy boxes from the Land of the Rising Sun – and I can’t help but wonder, “Was Japan Crate really that great, or has memory made the heart mouth grow fonder?” Join me as I risk be-spoiling one of my precious few happy memories from adulthood. Join me as I once again review Japan Crate.

You don’t have to delve too deep into the internet to find a plethora of subscription services eager to send you snacks, candy, and kawaii cuteness from your favorite island nation (tough break, Fiji). The contents of all the boxes are pretty similar – weird-ass candy from a kick-ass country – so where these companies strive to distinguish themselves is in presentation, service and value. As noted in my previous review, Japan Crate’s presentation was already on fleek; they packed their treats in a bright, branded box and included a full-color cheat sheet of the contents so you’d know the difference between what looked like octopus and what tasted like octopus.

 

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Their newly redesigned box features side flaps to keep the candy safer and more secure as it is kicked carefully and lovingly transported to you by the good men and women of the United States Postal Service. In addition to the practical changes, they’ve made some cosmetic changes. Both the inside and outside are now adorned with cute characters, like laughing octopi,  bewildered clouds and a smiling Mount Fugi (Mr. Fugi if you’re nasty). They announced the new crate design on their blog, one of the recently revamped sections of their website which has been overhauled to make it easier to manage your account, order gift subscriptions, and participate in the growing Japan Crate community.

Despite these changes, the cost of a crate surprisingly remains the same. Japan Crate will still deliver a mystery assortment of delicious Japanese candy and snacks directly to your doorstep each month for a nominal recurring fee. They offers three sizes: the half pound Mini, featuring 4-6 candies for $12 a month, the one pound Original, featuring 8-10 candies (1 DIY kit guaranteed) for $25 a month, and the two pound Premium, featuring 10-12 candies (2 DIY kits and 1 drink guaranteed) for $30 a month. If you commit to a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month plan, you’ll save some scratch. Shipping is free and you can cancel at any time, but why in the world would you? Oh, you’re saving for extravagances like “rent” and “food” and “water”? Have fun with that. I’ll be sitting under this overpass enjoying a bag of corn soup flavored Doritos, REGRETTING NOTHING!


 Ramune Marble Gum

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IMG_0559This ramune-flavored gum has a crunchy outer shell surrounding a super soft, super flavorful gum. There’s even a hint of citrus-flavored fizziness, just like the Japanese soda. It was very refreshing, and surprisingly kept its flavor; a lot of Japanese gum pulls an Evita, shining bright but burning out quickly. Not this gum. Of course, you would need 4 or 5 pieces to approximate a single decadent chunk of American bubble gum, but quality trumps quantity.

 

White Chocolate Big Bar Z

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IMG_0564This white chocolate covered wafer looked like a depressed churro. Or, as my sister Lauren described it, “like the material one machine extrudes before another machine chops it up into packing peanuts.” But it tastes waaaaaay better than it looks. The White Chocolate Big Bar Z is like a melt-in-your-mouth rice crispie treat. Eating it left me bereft because I wanted more, but enriched because I learned a valuable life lesson. I’m still gonna judge the hell out of thinking, feeling people based on their appearance, but not snacks. That would be wrong of me. I see that now.

 

Little Gang Grape

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IMG_0568This is what would happen if Pop Rocks and gum had a baby. And Pop Rocks drank and smoked through the entire pregnancy. Comparing it to that American cinematic classic, Twins,  Little Gang Grape is the Danny DeVito to Ramune Marble Gum’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. It tasted sorta stale, had hardly any crackle, and stayed hard. Like really hard. I commend it for unapologetically following through on its gravel-like appearance; as soon as I put pressure on it with my teeth, my mouth started sending off “wait, this isn’t edible!” signals to my brain. If there was ever a “hmm, tastes like grape” signal, it got lost in the ensuing panic.

 

Red Potion/Black Potion

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IMG_0573I liked this gum, which had a super soft texture and super strong coca cola flavor. It will supposedly show you which side you chew on, painting your with color. The red one is supposed to turn your tongue bright red, and the black one is supposed to turn your tongue dark black. Both seemed to turn my tongue a darker tongue color.

 

Soy Sauce Mochi

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IMG_0580Soy sauce flavored candy? Only in Japan! This savory snack, a mildly soy-flavored mochi wrapped in edible rice paper, was not as bad as I thought it would be. But when you’re working your way through a box of treats where everything is sweet, sweet, sweet, a flavor inextricably associated with sushi is a shock to your taste buds.

 

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IMG_0582This came through a little worse for wear thanks to sitting on my porch in 101 °F weather. But looks aside, it still tasted delicious – smooth, creamy chocolate, not to heavily interspersed with crunchy, crackly rice crisps. It was like a Nestle Crunch. Or, once rendered brittle and crumbly by an unforgiving Florida summer, like Buncha Crunch. Inside was a card with a “puppy pun,” the joke on one side and the answer on the other, hidden beneath a heat-activated word bubble. I don’t know if it was funny, because it was in Japanese, but the pictures of puppies were adorable.

 

Matcha Green Tea Kit Kats

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IMG_0588These Matcha Green Tea Kit Kats suffered a similar fate as the Talking Puppy Chocolate, but it didn’t affect their taste. There are actually two kinds of Green Tea Kit Kats – the standard version found in Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores, and a sweeter, less bitter version created in collaboration with a Japanese tea manufacturer. Honestly, I don’t know which of the two these were, but I do know they had a strong green tea flavor, thanks to small bits of gyokuro leaves mixed into the chocolate.

 

Matcha Green Tea Pejoy

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IMG_0589I love Pejoy, which are a pocky stick turned inside-out. These were filled with a smooth, green tea-flavored cream. Sorta on the sweet side, but still delicious if you like green tea.

 

Choco Banana Pocky

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IMG_0593Two words: Banana Runts. Two more words: Damn Good.

 

Kirby Blend-Blend Mix Gum

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IMG_0596This Kirby Blend-Blend Mix Gum includes five flavors – apple, orange, soda and yogurt – that you can combine to create different flavors, like cream soda, lemon squash and apple milk tea.  The fifth flavor is actually  a prank gum that blocks sweet flavors from your tongue. This grey “prank gum” doesn’t have much taste at first, but the more you chew, the more you can sense a bitter burn at the back of your throat, like when a pill gets stuck. Do not, I repeat do not reach into this bag blindly. The prank gum makes everything taste like sawdust.

 

Happy Paws Gummy

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IMG_0598I scoffed at the description of these gummies as being “so soft you might think you’re holding hands with a cuddly kitten,” but it is seriously like holding hands with a kitten! A kitten whose adorable gesture of goodwill you reward by BY EATING ITS FREAKIN’ HAND! Aside from the uncomfortable animal cruelty undertones, this was my favorite candy in this crate. Japan makes a mean gummy, the perfect amount of soft, squishy give soft with the flavor of a ripe, juicy peach.

 

Kawaii Ramune

IMG_0504This diminutive ramune, despite being bottled in plastic, still had the signature marble found in the glass bottled version. I loved it. Even though there was less of it to love.

 

Choco Kinako Mochi DIY

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IMG_0601For this DIY kit, you pour water on the dried mochi discs to “activate” them. Unfortunately, the instructions – despite being Ikea-esque – weren’t clear on how much water to add, so I think I overwatered them. This gave them the unappetizing appearance of raw scallops. What made them better was dipping them in the chocolate and kinako, a roasted soybean flour commonly used in traditional Japanese cuisine. They were fun to make, but in the end I couldn’t get over the slimy texture. I ended up eating the chocolate and kinako, sans mochi.

 

Magic Bubble Jelly DIY

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IMG_0604So much measuring! So much mixing! So much stirring! This labor intensive science project formed a grape flavored candy caught in eternal limbo between the stages of liquid, jelly and foam. It was terrible, like eating a unicorn sneeze.

 

Bonus Item! O-totoro figure

IMG_0524All this and a toy, too? This month’s bonus item was the titular character from My Neighbor Totoro.  Of the 10 possible Totoro figures, I received O-totoro, the Studio Ghibli mascot whose name literally means “Big totoro.” Am I sad that I didn’t get the nightmare-inducing Catbus figure? Japan Crate is running a Wandering Totoro contest wherein June subscribers can snap a photo their Totoro in the wild, slap on the hashtags #japancrate and #wanderingtotoro on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and possibly win all 10 incarnations of the internationally famous woodland spirit.


Nostalgia is beer-goggles for your memories. Revisiting things you loved in your childhood, under the sobering influence of adulthood, will usually leave you feeling deeply disappointed (I’m looking at you Thundercats). I have the memory of a goldfish, so this applies to things I’ve loved a couple of weeks ago. But thankfully, Japan Crate has not forced me to completely reevaluate my life choices. Well, my candy choices anyway. I’ve got still got some shit to work out.

With their redesigned crate, improved website and thriving community of candy-crazed subscribers, Japan Crate has only gotten better with age. They’ve even taken a cue from Loot Crate; like the aforementioned service’s Mega Crate, the Sugoi Crate is a super-sized version of the typical Japan Crate valued at over $500 and awarded to a randomly selected subscriber each month. Sugoi (which means “cool” in Japanese) Crates usually contain giant Japanese candies, Tokyo-exclusive toys, just-released gadgets, and brand new game consoles and games. It just adds more value to an already value-rich service.

 

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