7 Ways Japan Is A Cereal Lover’s Worst Nightmare

As any American who has lived in Japan for a decent length of time, you soon discover a looming dark side found at your local supermarket. So dark, and void of any hope, that it makes some Americans flee in fear at the mere sight of it. You may not want to hear this, but you need to know: Japan doesn’t like your American cereal-loving attitude. It laughs at you. And in doing so, it mocks you in 7 very specific ways.

7. Tiny little boxes

Cereal Japan

Japanese cereal boxes are small. Like connect 4 fingers from your hand together to create a rectangle small. It’s not quite as small as those mini boxes you get when you stay at hotels, but only slightly larger. The largest boxes that are found in Japan are the smallest boxes found in America. An average American box of cereal is around 18 ounces (510 grams). What does a Japanese box rank in as? 7.7 ounces (220 grams).

6. Unwieldy price tags

Cereal 6

Small boxes? No problem. Just buy more. Except the price for that tiny Japanese cereal box is the same as America’s giant brother box. Sometimes it’s even more.

5. Ultra Minimal Selection

Cereal 3

What kind of cereal do you like to eat? Oh Cheerios? They don’t have it. And your second favorite one? They probably don’t have that either. Actually, they don’t have anything. Any cereal aisle in Japan is the size of your tofu aisle back home.

Now I’ll admit, the cereal aisles in America, especially at the larger supermarket chains, travel on unnecessarily for miles. I can see that being unrealistic in crowded Japan. I’m not asking for that. But I am asking for more than a selection of 2 or 3 boxes.

4. Flake Obsession

Cereal 5

Most people would expect Japanese cereal to at least be a little interesting and different, considering many foods often make Americans look in wonder. But no. What you get are flakes.

Corn flakes (squirm), and variations on them, have always been king in Japan.

3. Pile On The Sugar

 cereal 7

As an American, whose country has cakes, cookies, and other desserts that are way to sweet for any Japanese mortal’s tongue, you would expect Japanese cereal to be kind of tame. Yeah . . .

Tamed with massive amounts of sugar.

America has plenty of breakfast cereals that are really just a disguise for bowls of candy. However, there is also a large variety of normal cereals that are for the more health conscious and don’t viciously assault your sugar sensors.

Japan decided to stick with the sweet side. Even the cereals that shouldn’t be sweet, like bran flakes or whole wheat flakes are laced with sugar. But this may have been their goal because . . .

2. The major use of cereal in Japan is in ice cream

Cereal 2

If there is anything you could do to insult me even more, it would be to take my breakfast cereal, which is supposed to start off my day with health, vigor, and hope (?), and jam pack it into your parfaits and ice cream sundaes.

Corn flakes is a popular topping.

Which may answer the mystery of sweetness and size (how many parfaits can you really eat a week?)

Well you’ve screwed with my cereal enough. I have to choose the least sweet flavor and pay a lot of money for a toy-like box, but at least I am still able to enjoy my breakfast. That is until I’m struck with one final question:

1. Where’s The Milk?

Cereal 4

Japanese don’t drink a lot of milk, making their selections in super markets and convenience stores minimal. This would normally be fine (I mean how much milk do you need?), except the milk selections are often even worse than the cereal selections.

I’m not an American that really cares much about having different producers of milk, or flavors, or soy, or whatever other mutations of milk are available in America. The one thing I care about is having a choice between 3 things: Regular milk, low-fat milk, and non-fat milk. Milk is one of those things that depending on which type you grew up on, the others taste kind of weird.

Well with my random assessment of milk in Japan, this is the breakdown you’ll often see in supermarkets:

Regular milk: always sold
Low-fat milk: sometimes sold
Non-fat milk: rarely sold

In most smaller supermarkets and convenience stores, you will only find regular milk. You need to go to the larger establishments to find low-fat milk, and then you really need to look hard to find non-fat milk. Over the past decade, selection has improved (especially in Tokyo), but you still may find yourself on a bit of a milk hunt.

Japan, why have you forsaken us cereal-lovers?

Cereal 1

It’s really simple. The Japanese breakfast just isn’t cereal. Yeah, some younger people are moving towards it, but it has always been just a very minor part of Japanese food.

Reasons? A ton, I’m sure. Crops, diet, body, taste, history, image. You can leave some of these in the comments if you are in the know and would like to educate a bit.

Is this a big deal? Depends on how big a cereal person you are. In other Western countries, is cereal as important as it is to Americans? Do any of you have any good cereal stories in Japan?

And for those of you thinking “Pfft, just eat something else for breakfast. You’re in Japan.” Very valid point.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


7 Ways Japan Is A Cereal Lover’s Worst Nightmare — 31 Comments

  1. I was very surprised there was corn flakes at the bottom of the ice dessert I got at a matsuri one New Years! I had no idea about Japan’s love for corn flakes until then.

  2. I’m a cereal eater in the states (Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes) but when I was in Japan I would eat two pieces of toast and half a grapefruit which was actually a wonderful breakfast. Although my host mom was amazed at how much butter I can put on toast. (It’s the French in me. Gotta’ have the butter!)

  3. This post was hysterical! I couldn’t stop laughing, remembering how I wandered through the aisles in Japan, trying to read the labels, desperate for something simple like shredded wheat or a whole wheat flake that wasn’t coated in sugar. No such luck. Finally found Oatmeal, thank god. And the milk — that was so disappointing. No skim milk. Forget Lactaid milk. It wasn’t even possible finding unsalted nuts to add to my breakfast.
    Thanks for the funny take on the whole thing. What do the Japanese eat for breakfast? Let them eat cake?

    • My husband’s family from Fukushima eats sunny-side up eggs with a slice of bacon cooked into the egg and toast with jam. The bread is a lot fluffier than the toast I’m used to it and I quite prefer it, but I don’t like eggs.

      Also, my husband’s family is used to eating leftovers from the night before for breakfast. To me, eating something so heavy for breakfast unsettles my stomach, but they are used to it.

    • Eggs, bacon, ham, and toast in all sorts of combinations are the most popular stuff if you’re talking about a western style breakfast. Traditional is more like every other meal of the day but rice, fish, miso soup and maybe a vegetable or two are most common.

      As a random aside that seems slightly on topic. The American brand of almond milk Almond Breeze is very recently available here so if you have issues with lactic acid here you are finally sorted now.

      The milk here is of course extremely high quality and much better than just about anything readily available back in the US.

  4. I was sitting in Kanji class just this week when I got a whiff of something that reminded me of cinnamon toast crunch. I informed a fellow westerner of my encounter after class and we decided to engage in cereal activities for lunch. We bought bowls, spoons, milk, and selected Cocoa Crispies and a Waffle Crisp-esque Kellogg’s brand out of a the very limited breakfast section. The latter was mixed with, of course, frosted flakes. 笑
    Best lunch I’ve had in a long while.

  5. Here in Sweden we’re also cereal lovers. I would probably go cold turkey if I suddenly couldn’t find oats available anywhere. As for dairy products, can you find yoghurt at regular supermarkets? Also, at least here in Sweden, cottage cheese and quark are popular (took me forever to even find the japanese word for quark, which seems to be クワルクチーズ).

    • You can get oats easier than you used to be able to. Luckily yogurt is fairly common, even at convenient stores. And to be honest, I’ve never heard of a quark in English. Must be a European thing?

      • I’m glad to hear both oats and yoghurt can be found. As for quark, it’s probably much more common in Europe than anywhere else, but it’s awesome. Like a thick low-fat high protein yoghurt that you can use for anything from just “enhancing” your yoghurt/cereal or whatever breakfast to using it for baking healthy stuff http://wine0clock.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/quark1.jpg

        • Haha, I’m from Sweden too and I don’t enjoy quark, so I guess it differs from person to person :P It does have a a lot of protein in it and it is cheap so it’s kinda good if you’re looking to buff up or something.
          I’m one of those people who just drink coffee in the morning so the lack of cereals doesn’t really bother me.

          • “Quark” is just another (Germanic) name for “cottage cheese” and in Japan, there are 2 varieties: one smooth, for cheesecake, etc, and the coarser one for salads and so on.
            Your rant on cereals is SO spot-on. Excellent stuff!
            Nowadays, I eat only a bowlful of (3-4 types) of fresh fruit and a cup of coffee for breakfast.

  6. ah i am disappointed to hear that cereal isnt big in japan, as i love my variety like wheetos and cookie crisp.
    i think if i visited japan or lived there i would have to eat the corn flakes once in awhile and either eat toast, yogurt or nothing for breakfast, as i dont like cooked food for breakfast.
    are sandwiches big in japan?

    • Nowhere near as big as Western countries, but sandwiches definitely take up a nice part of food consumption.

  7. Found this page because a childhood friend of mine married a Japanese girl. When showing her cheerios she said it was way too bland. And ended up putting ice cream in her milk and stirring it up. I thought this story was interesting and wanted a bit more information. Cool article!

    • Well to her credit, ice cream and cheerios do taste good. But yeah, I’ve seen Japanese people who try cheerios feel it doesn’t have quite the sugary kick.

  8. Many low-price supermarkets (and expensive import shops) stock “Temmy’s” cereals, made in the middle-east, but the ‘regular’ corn-flakes and puffed-rice have recently disappeared. Only sugar-frosted and sweetened cocoa flavors, as well as honey-flavored ‘cheerio-style’ oat rings are available near my place.

    • It’s as if it doesn’t have enough sugar in it, the cereal won’t sell. There have probably been a lot of market studies on the matter from the big cereal companies.

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