Dagashi (駄菓子) are cheap snacks for kids. They are traditional Japanese children’s candy. If you are old enough to remember, it is similar to the snack you’d find in the old corner markets in the United States — where you could find nickel gum, candy cigarettes, and other similar snacks.
Some snacks come with small prizes kids love seeing what they get — similar to Cracker Jacks.
For some who have been in Japan for a long time, dagashi can bring back a sense of nostalgia. The various snacks with Japan-only flavors like corn potage, mentaiko, or even wasabi.
What is a dagashiya?
A dagashiya is a shop specialized in selling dagashi snacks. It’s usually a very small store you’ll often see filled with junior high school students getting snacks on their way home. Or, well, it used to be that way — many stand-alone dagashiya have closed (though there is a bit of a resurgence lately).
Some shops sell small toys kids enjoy. Other shops even offer light meals and become neighborhood hangouts — with the owner practically acting as a guardian while parents work.
One thing you may notice the moment you walk into an old-fashioned dagashiya is the cluttered shelves and antiques littered everywhere as if they’re there simply because that was the only place it would fit at the time.
I mean, you’ll find some really interesting antiques like the old-time pachinko machines (they’re usually not for sale, just for atmosphere in the shop).
Dagashi-ya: A Quick Japanese Lesson
The -ya in dagashiya denotes it is a dagashi shop. Another example might be a ramen-ya, which as you can guess is a ramen shop.
Popular Types of Dagashi
I won’t even try to cover all the various types of dagashi. I won’t even try to cover 20% of them. You’ll know what I mean the moment you step foot into one. There are a TON of varieties and flavors of snacks to choose from.
But here are some of the most popular that you will likely find when in Japan.
- Baby Star Ramen — a bite-size crunchy ramen snack
- Big Katsu — a shredded fish snack that looks like a pork cutlet (not pork though, its fish)
- Umai Bo — a puffed corn snack that has a HUGE variety of flavors
- Candy Cigarettes — yep, candy that looks like cigarettes
- Watashi no Chocobatto — a baseball bat-shaped chocolate bar with nuts and a soft cookie center
- Yocchan Ika — dried squid with soy sauce
- Cabbage Taro — a corn snack meant to take like okonomiyaki, not cabbage
- Kabayaki San Taro — grilled eel, tastes like a fishy soy sauce jerky
- Ramune — chewable tablets made to taste like the popular ramune soda flavor
- Umeshiba — salted plum
“Today, we’re gonna talk about traditional Japanese snacks or dagashi. I’ll be eating several dagashi and ranking them […] So, let’s try traditional Japanese snacks or dagashi.” (taiken.co)
While all of those are unique, there are something like 500 varieties of dagashi to try. I really like all their cola flavored candies. There are some really creative ways of using the flavor — it’s so interesting to try.
Where to Buy Dagashi
You will find dagashiya all over Japan — Tokyo (Ikebukuro and Shibuya areas in particular), Osaka, Kyoto… no matter where you go you’re bound to find one. While there are fewer stand-alone shops, lately they have been cropping up in large shopping malls.
But there is one magical dagashiya location you’ll want to check out if you’re in Tokyo. Kami-kawaguchiya (map pin, it’s a 4-min walk from Kishibojimmae Station) started in 1781 and remains in operation today! A nostalgic blast from the past located in the Kishibojin Shrine grounds.
Fun fact — it was the what Studio Ghibli used as inspiration for the dagashiya in their film “Only Yesterday.”
“The oldest continuously operating dagashiya in Tokyo is Kami-kawaguchiya, which was established in 1781.  It is located on the grounds of Kishibojin Shrine and served as the model for the dagashiya in the Studio Ghibli film Only Yesterday.” (en.wikipedia.org)
Don’t forget to check Daiso, a popular ¥100 store in Japan — where you can find quite a variety of dagashi. They have x for ¥100 deals.
Can you buy dagashi outside of a dagashiya?
Yes. You can find a small amount in convenience stores. Usually in the same area as the regular snacks and candies. Often down at the bottom row, making it easier for kids to browse. Convenience stores in Japan somehow magically offer everything one would ever need all in one small location. 😊
You will also find some larger department stores will set up a dagashi corner where it’s practically a full dagashiya inside the department store. Sometimes these are popup stores and are only available for a short time.
Dagashi Bars: Adult Beverages and Candy
So yes… this is a thing. Essentially bars and izakaya where you not only enjoy your favorite adult beverages, but also dagashi. For some it seems to be an afterthought. Something they’ve added to the menu.
In others, it’s a full dagashi shop appearance with an izakaya embedded — and it’s VERY cool. Not necessarily the snacks (of course, those are great too), but the whole ambiance from the old-Japan feel is absolutely incredible!
For instance at this little shop in Ebisu. I mean look at it! Put it on your bucket-list to check off when you visit Tokyo and knock out two things at once: izakaya and old-time traditional Japanese snacks.
“Recent years in Tokyo have witnessed the spread of the dagashi bars where, for a charge of ¥500, you can help yourself to an assortment of candies to chomp on with your beer or high ball.” (japanistry.com)
And that’s a wrap for this guide to dagashi. I hope you find it enticing and interesting. I know I love Japanese snacks, and these old-time traditional snacks are among the best (especially the various cola flavored ones).
❤️+✌️ in 🗼