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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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?
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.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.