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REVIEW / TokyoTreat unboxing (January 2016)

 

The last thing TokyoTreat probably wants me to do in a review of their latest treat-packed parcel is to namedrop their main competitor, Japan Crate. But namedrop I must! Since Japan Crate launched in late 2014, there has been an explosion of similar subscription services geared towards getting delicious Japanese candy and snacks into your gaping maw. And though many of these boxes are pretty good, simply by merit of containing crazy Japanese candies, Japan Crate has remained the box to beat. And the newly redesigned and revamped TokyoTreat might have just delivered a K.O. blow.

 

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Top to bottom: TokyoTreat’s new box is more colorful, and more compact, than the old box

 

TokyoTreat might be relatively new to the game, but they play to win; owned and operated by a Japanese team, their goal from the start has been to deliver authentic, trusted Japanese brands to their snack-savvy subscribers. The only thing keeping them in San Francisco-based Japan Crate’s shadow has been their slightly less polished branding and packaging. But now that Ayumi-chan and her team have polished their branding and packaging to a high shine, every other Japanese candy subscription service looks a little duller by comparison. They’ve completely redesigned the box, both physically (with sturdier construction) and visually (with kawaii illustrations). But the first thing you’ll notice isn’t the improvements, rather that the new box is smaller; it’s about three-fourths the size of the old box. Smaller Box = Fewer Treats = (ToT).

 

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Left to right: Japan Crate seems to have inspired TokyoTreat to lose the oversized postcard in favor of a booklet

 

Or so you’d think. I was surprised to find that the new box houses the same number of full sized treats as the old box; the inside is bigger than the outside, like the Tardis! Or perhaps TokyoTreat’s less physics-defying explanation, that “the stronger support allows the box to hold more weight than the old box,” explains why they were able to stuff the same delicious payload into a smaller space. I have no problem with Tetris-tight packing as long as my Pocky ultimately arrives uncrushed, which it did. But the packaging isn’t the only thing that got a new year makeover; TokyoTreat has also revamped their website (streamlining the ordering process, expanding opportunities for community engagement, and posting the contents of past boxes) and their product description guide (ditching the oversized postcard in favor of a Japan Crate-inspired full color booklet that reads right to left in true Japanese fashion).

 

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The only thing that remains the same is the tasty contents.  TokyoTreat still offers full-sized candies and snacks shipped you each month straight from the heart of Japan. There are three different subscription options: the 1-pound Small box is $14.99 for 5-7 snacks and candies, the 1.5 pound Regular box is $24.99 for 8-12 snacks and candies (1 DIY kit), and the box reviewed here, the massive 2.5 pound Premium is $34.99 for 13-17 snacks and candies (1 DIY kit, 1 drink and 1 special item). For all of the boxes, shipping is free worldwide and you can cancel anytime.


Tyrant Habenero Who Came Back!

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IMG_2923In case you couldn’t tell from the drawing of a demonic habenero pepper with murder in his eyes, this potato-based salted snack is flavored with a spicy powder that only gets hotter and hotter the more you eat. It’s not just hotness for hotness’ sake; there’s a good crunch and a good flavor to these mouth-melting rings, just the warned: the closer you get to the bottom of the bag, the more you can feel the burn in the back of your throat, working your esophagus like a speed bag.

 

Fuku Fuku Tai Chocolate

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IMG_2925This looks just like taiyaki! Taiyaki is a classic street vendor snack in Japan, a warm waffle filled with red bean paste. In the case of this cookie-esque doppelganger, you get a monaka wafer on the outside and creamy chocolate on the inside. It doesn’t top the hot Nutella-filled taiyaki I’ve had at my local Korean ice cream shop, but it’s still darn tasty. The wafers are super thin and light with a smooth, aerated milk chocolate sandwiched between them, making the whole thing melt in your mouth.

 

Chocolate Ball Peanut

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IMG_2931First created by the Morinaga company in 1967, these choco balls are like peanut M&Ms but better because your crippling OCD won’t compel you to color coordinate them according to the electromagnetic spectrum. Instead of a peanut surrounded by a crunchy candy outside/creamy chocolate inside, it’s a peanut surrounded by a creamy chocolate outside/crunchy wafer inside. It’s the poor person’s version of Forrero Rocher. These were so good, if I had tried them before offering to share, I wouldn’t have offered to share.

 

Melt In Your Mouth Winter Pocky

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IMG_2932The photo on the packaging makes you think this limited-edition pocky will be dusted in a visible layer cocoa powder, which it isn’t. But even though it’s invisible to the naked eye, the cocoa powder can’t hide from the taste buds. It adds an intense, deep and slightly bitter taste to the already decadent layer of milk chocolate coating this winter-only pocky. It’s a reason to be glad Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow this year.

 

Yokai-Watch Soft-Serve Ice Cream

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IMG_2933Supposedly infused with soft-serve ice cream flavor, this Yokai-Watch branded version of Tahato’s Caramel Corn tastes like a sweeter, fluffier version of Captain Crunch. There is nary a trace of vanilla, none that my uncultured palate could discern anyway, but they were still scrumptious. Despite their styrofoam packing peanut texture, I have yet to find a flavor of these that I do not enjoy.

 

Yokai-Watch Fortune Seal Namaste Curry

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IMG_2937Also branded with characters from the popular Pokemon-esque Yokai-Watch anime, these curry flavored corn snacks smell more intense than they taste. The flavor is like a packet of Top Ramen powder poured over Funyuns. It’s nice to have a savory snack to balance out all the sweet.

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Pokemon Chewing Candy

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IMG_2946“Are you supposed to swallow this gum?” my sister asked in a panic. Yes you are, because it’s not gum. It’s a bit of a cultural taboo to take food out of your mouth in Japan, so these sticks of pineapple-flavored “gum” are actually taffy made to look and chew like gum. And your sister didn’t tell you that before offering you a piece, you can distract yourself from freaking out by taking the monster quiz on the wrapper, which also has a monster seal that can be applied to skin or paper like a temporary tattoo.

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Pokemon Wafers

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IMG_2956My mouth only recently recovered from the last time I tried one of these moisture-sucking murder wafers, which are loved for their collectible stickers and not their taste. Imagine my surprise when I found this edible. Sure, it’s still cheap creamy chocolate between two cheap crunchy wafers, but this time it didn’t leave me a dried out mummy husk thanks to a double-thick layer of the good stuff.

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Pokemon Ramune 5 Pack

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IMG_2959These small, round tablet candies are similar to American Smarties, but made from a much finer powder so they. All five flavors  – pineapple, melon, cola, ramune, and grape – were good, though the ramune was best. I definitely recommend you give them a try if you can find them. I also recommend that you keep the packaging handy if you’re going to carry them around in your pocket or purse, so you don’t look like a drug addict when you can’t stop popping them. Or go ahead and put them in an empty prescription pill bottle and see how long it takes for your friends and family to stage an intervention.

 

Pokemon Sticker-Matching Chewing Gum

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IMG_2877This is the most disappointing offering from a candy perspective, but perhaps the most exciting from a packaging perspective. Seriously, someone at the paper mill got a promotion the day they came up with this. It’s 99.999% pressed cellulose!

 

Pokemon Moncolle

IMG_2875In keeping with the theme, this month’s special item was a Pokemon Monocolle. Of the 12 different Pokemon up for grabs, I got the one wearing clothes. *Sigh* Am I disappointed that I got a humanoid Pokemon? Yes. Am I pleased that I didn’t get Squirtle? Also yes. Though I would have been happier with something cuter and cuddlier, this is a surprising well made little toy.

 

Amazake: High Quality Sweet Sake

IMG_2884Dis. Gus. Ting. And yet this was my favorite item in the box, because it was something so completely foreign to my American taste buds. It tasted authentically Japanese, in the same way as I imagine the sweat off of a salaryman’s brow would taste authentically Japanese. Did you know that amazake is made from fermented rice? If not, huge mouthful of fermented rice will tip you off. Seriously, this sweet non-alcoholic sake involved more chewing than sipping, which is not a quality I enjoy in a beverage.

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Neru Neru Nerune Soda Flavor

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IMG_2968It might start off the color of day three of your last sinus infection, but after mixing all three powder packets with water it become a fizzy, fluffy blue mass of yum. That’s why it’s been a Japanese favorite for over 30 years. It pairs great with pop rocks or sugar crystals, but not so much the candy bits here. They’re hard, like chip a filling hard.

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Oekaki Kyanland Candy

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IMG_2964For this DIY candy kit, you press the mildly ramune-flavored taffy into the mold for your desired shape – our kit had a shooting star, planet, robot and dolphin (which I pretended was a space dolphin, to maintain the science fiction continuity) – and color it with the flavorless edible paint. It was actually pretty fun, mixing up the different colored paints. I finally used my fine art major, ma!

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By elevating their presentation and packaging, TokyoTreat has elevated themselves to the #1 spot on my list of Japanese snack and candy subscription services. They now have a great look to match a great product, which is everything they promise on their website. The same can’t be said for Japan Crate; in their last box, three items were from Glico USA – and readily available in my local non-Asian grocery store – while the rest came from AsianFoodGrocer.com and not directly from “manufacturers in Japan” like they claim on their website. When TokyoTreat says they partner directly with local distributors and manufacturers, they mean it. It doesn’t get any realer than Japanese candies shipped directly from Tokyo, Japan!

 

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Behind the creation of every box, there’s a real person searching real shelves for the hottest and most popular Japanese snack trends of the season.

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TokyoTreat’s office is located in the very heart of the city (Minato-ku), next door to the Japan Post and a five minute walk from the iconic Tokyo Tower used in their logo.

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TokyoTreat’s 15 person (possibly 14 people and 1 horse) team is based in Tokyo, Japan, which means access to candy and snacks tried and tested by true Tokyo citizens.

 

 

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