Earlier this year, one of our guest writers used the phrase “Willy Wonka-san” when talking about candy in Japan and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.
There’s probably no better descriptor for the whimsical, gigantic candy industry in Japan. For some, Japan is the mecca of candy. Year after year its companies pour out incredibly novel candies that would astonish even Roald Dahl.
Among all of those sweets, one stands above all the rest: chocolate. Chocolate has gained a lot of significance in Japanese culture and society. It’s not only an everyday treat, but it can have a lot of symbolism too.
For example Valentine’s Day in Japan, like in the US, is a very chocolate-centric holiday; however, unlike the US, different types of chocolate have very different meanings. God forbid you give giri, not honmei chocolate to that one special person.
And the Japanese are getting better and better at making the stuff. Last year a Japanese chocolatier, Susumu Koyama, was declared “Best Foreign Chocolatier” at the 17th annual Salon du Chocolat, a French chocolate tradeshow. From the low-end sweets to the high-end, gourmet chocolates, Japan dominates when it comes to chocolate.
Because of chocolate’s importance in Japan, it’s maybe not surprising that the Japanese take chocolate very seriously. In fact, the regulation of chocolate in Japan is extremely strict.
Part of any government’s job is to make sure that people aren’t mislead when they buy things. For example, when a company calls a food “organic” or “local,” those labels have specific meanings set by the government. Same thing with chocolate. You can’t just call anything “dark chocolate” — it has to meet certain standards.
And is it local?
It turns out the Japanese government has some of the strictest chocolate standards in the world. You’d think that Switzerland or Belgium or some other place known for its chocolates would be more serious about it, but it turns out that the Japanese are basically second to none.
In 1971, the Japanese Fair Trade Commission was granted sweeping powers to regulate chocolate to make sure that Japanese customers know exactly what they’re getting.
All in all, the Fair Trade Commission classifies six types of “chocolate materials” that are used to make up four types of “chocolate products.” They are:
- Pure chocolate material (純チョコレート生地)
- Pure milk chocolate material (純ミルクチョコレート生地)
- Chocolate material (チョコレート生地)
- Milk chocolate material (ミルクチョコレート生地)
- Quasi chocolate material (準チョコレート生地)
- Quasi milk chocolate material (準ミルクチョコレート生地)
Each of these have to have very specific percentages of various ingredients — cocoa, milk fat, etc.. Otherwise it’s, in the eyes of the Fair Trade Commission, misrepresenting itself. Out of those materials, you can make any of four chocolate products:
- Chocolate (チョコレート)
- Chocolate sweet (チョコレート菓子)
- Quasi chocolate (準チョコレート)
- Quasi chocolate sweet (準チョコレート菓子)
Confusing? Absolutely. I don’t think that I’ve ever closely inspected a chocolate bar to really care about its cocoa content, or a palate sophisticated enough to really tell the difference.
Regardless, it’s good to see that within the confines of his factory Willy Wonka-san is keeping tight control over things. Don’t want too many Augustus Gloops running around ruining things.