Japanese Kitkat flavours: a global pop culture symbol banner

KitKat in Japan: Pop Culture Icon and the Art of Branding

Unwrapping the cultural phenomenon of KitKats in Japan: From their UK origins to their global appeal, explore how KitKats have become symbols of luck, innovation, and pop culture

KitKats have become more than just a sweet treat in Japan; they’re a cultural phenomenon. Nestlé’s iconic chocolate bars have found a unique place in the hearts of the Japanese people, transcending their humble origins to become symbols of luck, creativity, and innovation.

As a UK pop artist I love the story of KitKats in Japan – and their fun array of flavours and playful packaging that has many parallels to pop art-inspired design and consumer culture. KitKats are a true modern-day pop culture icon. In this article, I journey into the fascinating world of KitKats in Japan, examining their history, significance, and the irresistible allure that has made them a beloved aspect of Japanese pop culture.

This seemingly simple confectionery has woven itself into the fabric of Japanese culture, with an astonishing array of over 300 variations of flavours and packaging that reflect the country’s rich traditions and contemporary trends. I have been lucky enough to visit Japan and try many of these extraordinarily creative flavours first-hand!

KitKats are popular in Japan due to resembling Japanese good luck phrase “Kitto Katsu”. Through diverse flavours and novel packaging they symbolise pop culture, and are used in media, tourism, and gift-giving. Their vibrant packaging reflects pop art influences, making each one a mini work of art.

Japanese Kitkat flavours: a global pop culture symbol

Pop Culture Symbol

My fascination with Japanese KitKat flavours also saw me write multiple university assignments on the topic when studying for my international business undergraduate degree at the University of Manchester between 2012-15!

Join me as I unwrap the secrets behind Japan’s obsession with KitKats and discover the delightful journey that awaits within each colourful package.

Learn more about why pop artists took inspiration from everyday consumer items in the 1950s and 1960s in my blog post here – and also why food is an important theme in pop art here.

Brief Introduction to KitKats and their Journey to Japan

The story of KitKats in Japan is a tale of sweet serendipity, tracing its roots back to the rolling hills of England before blossoming into a cultural sensation on the shores of Japan.

Originating in the United Kingdom in the 1930s as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp, the KitKat bar was born out of a desire to create a snack that was both convenient and delicious. Little did its creators know that this simple chocolate-covered wafer would soon capture the imagination of a nation thousands of miles away.

In the early 1970s, KitKats made their debut in Japan, courtesy of the confectionery giant Nestlé. Initially marketed as a luxury item, KitKats quickly gained traction among Japanese consumers, thanks in part to their association with good luck – a play on the Japanese phrase “Kitto Katsu”, meaning “you will surely win.” This clever wordplay, coupled with Nestlé’s savvy marketing campaigns, helped propel KitKats to stardom in Japan.

As the years passed, KitKats continued to soar in popularity, evolving from a simple chocolate snack to a cultural icon. Today, these humble chocolate bars have become synonymous with Japanese pop culture, with an astonishing array of flavours and packaging variations that reflect the country’s rich traditions and contemporary tastes.

Read on as I embark on a journey through time to uncover the fascinating history and enduring appeal of KitKats in Japan.

Japanese KitKat flavours in Tokyo | By Kerwin
Japanese KitKat flavours in Tokyo | Photo By Kerwin

Why are KitKats so Famous in Japan?

KitKats are popular in Japan due to resembling Japanese good luck phrase “Kitto Katsu”. Through their diverse flavours and innovative packaging they symbolise pop culture, and are integrated into media, tourism, and gift-giving traditions. Their vibrant packaging reflects pop art influences, making each one a miniature work of art.

KitKats have achieved iconic status in Japan for a multitude of reasons, deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of the nation. Firstly, the act of gift-giving holds immense importance in Japanese society, serving as a gesture of respect, gratitude, and goodwill.

Nestlé cleverly capitalised on this cultural norm by positioning KitKats as the perfect gift, particularly for students facing exams or individuals embarking on new endeavours, thanks to their association with luck and success.

Japanese lemon Kitkat flavour in Tokyo
Japanese lemon Kitkat flavour in Tokyo

Nestlé Spotting a Marketing Opportunity

Furthermore, Nestlé’s marketing strategies in Japan have been nothing short of ingenious. From captivating advertising campaigns to strategic partnerships with popular Japanese brands and celebrities, Nestlé has effectively cultivated a sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding KitKats, turning them into must-have items for locals and tourists alike.

Additionally, KitKats’ success in Japan can be attributed to their wide array of unique flavours, specifically tailored to cater to Japanese tastes. From matcha and sake to sweet potato and wasabi, these innovative flavour combinations have captured the imaginations of consumers, transforming KitKats into a platform for culinary experimentation and discovery.

Lastly, KitKats have seamlessly integrated into various Japanese traditions and holidays, becoming synonymous with celebrations such as Valentine’s Day and White Day, as well as seasonal festivities like cherry blossom season and New Year’s. This cultural resonance has further solidified KitKats’ status as a beloved staple in Japanese society, ensuring their enduring popularity for years to come.

Japanese Kitkat flavours - found in Singapore when I was living there
Japanese Kitkat flavours – found in Singapore in 2018 when I was living there

What Does KitKat Mean in Japan?

Another important factor in their popularity is that in Japan, the name “KitKat” is more than just a simple confectionery label; it’s imbued with layers of cultural significance and linguistic playfulness.

The name “KitKat” cleverly resembles the Japanese phrase “Kitto Katsu”, meaning “surely win” or “you will definitely succeed.” This linguistic twist has transformed KitKats into symbolic charms of luck and success, particularly favoured during exam seasons and times of transition.

Beyond its literal translation, KitKats have seamlessly woven themselves into the fabric of Japanese language and expressions. They’ve become shorthand for good fortune and encouragement, with phrases like “Kitto Katsu” serving as motivational mantras.

This integration into everyday language underscores the profound impact KitKats have had on Japanese culture, solidifying their status as more than just a tasty treat, but as talismans of positivity and achievement. When coupled with Japan’s gift-giving traditions – and also their love of colourful and creative packaging – it’s no surprise KitKats have such widespread appeal.

How Many Flavours of KitKat are There in Japan?

The sheer diversity of KitKat flavours available in Japan is staggering, offering a tantalising array of options for even the most discerning palates. Nestlé Japan has masterfully crafted an extensive line-up of flavours, ranging from the traditional to the delightfully unexpected.

Variations on classics like milk chocolate and white chocolate sit alongside uniquely Japanese offerings such as matcha green tea, roasted green tea, milk tea and hojicha roasted tea. Sweet potato is a popular Japanese item, so naturally KitKat’s sweet potato variety (sometimes even purple coloured) is one of the most commonly stocked in shops. When I visited Japan I also found a caramel pudding flavour that insisted you bake in the oven before eating to melt first!

There are also many fruit-flavoured KitKats to be found. My favourites are lemon, apple and melon.. but without doubt the best KitKat I’ve ever tasted in Tokyo Banana flavour.

Japanese Tokyo Banana Kitkat flavour at Tokyo airport
Japanese Tokyo Banana Kitkat flavour at Tokyo airport.. the best Kitkats I’ve ever tasted

Taking Confectionary Innovation to new Levels

What truly sets Japan’s KitKat offerings apart are the limited edition and regional exclusive flavours. These elusive varieties tantalise consumers with their scarcity, inspiring eager hunts among the public, both online and in-store. From seasonal delights like sakura cherry blossom and yuzu citrus to regional specialties like Hokkaido melon and Okinawan sweet potato, each flavour tells a story of Japan’s rich culinary heritage.

Nestlé Japan’s commitment to innovation knows no bounds, constantly pushing the boundaries of flavour experimentation. Whether it’s infusing KitKats with regional ingredients or collaborating with local artisans and chefs, each new release is met with eager anticipation and rave reviews.

Certain flavours have achieved cult status among both locals and tourists, with perennial favourites like matcha and sake garnering widespread acclaim. These beloved flavours have transcended mere confectionery, becoming cultural touchstones that embody the essence of Japanese gastronomy and creativity.

Try Some for Yourself!

If you are reading this article in a location far from Japan, you can actually purchase multi-flavour boxes of these KitKats online, from sites such at Etsy or Amazon. I purchased a set for my 30th birthday celebrations as after-dinner petit fours and a talking point – it was incredible to see all the flavours up close, and the brightly-coloured packaging variations too.

The creative packaging of these hundreds of KitKat flavours has a collectible-esque appeal. Their packaging is also reminiscent of the pop art style of art, in which themes of branding, repetition, bold colours and advertising were key themes. Discover why food was such a popular subject matter for pop artists in my blog post here.

Limited edition Shinshu Apple-flavoured Kitkats I found in Tokyo
Limited edition Shinshu Apple-flavoured Kitkats I found in Tokyo

The Power of Branding and Packaging for KitKats: Pop Art Influence

The Evolution of KitKat Packaging in Japan

Since their introduction to the Japanese market, KitKats have undergone a remarkable transformation in packaging design. What began as simple wrappers has evolved into a canvas for creativity and innovation.

Nestlé Japan has embraced the concept of packaging as an art form, constantly refreshing designs to reflect current trends and consumer preferences. As their range of flavours has become ever-more diverse and ambitious, so too has the unique variation in wrappers – with each flavour reflected in a different colour and illustrated packaging design.

Use of Vibrant Colours and Designs

KitKat packaging in Japan bursts with vibrant colours and eye-catching designs, captivating consumers at first glance. Each flavour variation boasts its own unique packaging, ranging from playful and fun fruit flavours, to sleek and sophisticated sake-infused KitKats. This attention to detail not only enhances the overall consumer experience but also reinforces KitKats’ status as a coveted commodity.

Influence of Pop Art on Packaging Aesthetics

The influence of pop art is unmistakable in KitKat packaging, with bold graphics and playful motifs reminiscent of iconic pop art movements. The use of repetition across the range of 300-plus Japanese KitKat flavours – with each having its own unique twist – also reflects certain characteristics of the pop art movement. Read my insightful blog post to learn about what exactly makes an artwork ‘pop art’, here.

Nestlé Japan harnesses the power of visual storytelling to create packaging that transcends mere functionality, transforming each KitKat purchase into a miniature work of art.

Limited Edition Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell's Soup Cans of soup
Pop art often played around with brightly coloured food packaging (such as Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans) – which can be found in modern-day KitKats

My own ‘By Kerwin’ music icon paintings are also inspired by pop art. Explore my range of paintings and shop prints in my online shop.

Collectability and Appeal to Consumers Beyond Taste

Beyond their delectable flavours, KitKats have become highly sought-after collectibles, thanks in part to their striking packaging. Limited edition releases and special collaborations with artists and designers have elevated KitKats to coveted status among collectors and enthusiasts.

Nestlé have also released special Mount Fuji-shaped packaging for certain flavours, and other references to elements of Japanese culture.

The appeal of KitKats extends far beyond their taste, encompassing elements of nostalgia, aesthetic appreciation, and cultural significance. In this way, KitKat packaging serves as a testament to the enduring allure of pop art and its ability to captivate consumers on multiple levels.

By Kerwin music themed pop art paintings and prints in a chaotic Jackson Pollock style montage 2024
My own By Kerwin paintings mimic the bright colours and boldness of pop art

The Role of Packaging in Japan

In Japan, packaging is not merely a practical necessity but a reflection of cultural values and aesthetics deeply ingrained in society. With a strong emphasis on craftsmanship, attention to detail, and presentation, packaging plays a pivotal role in shaping consumer perceptions and experiences.

For food items like KitKats, packaging serves as a crucial point of connection between the product and the consumer, offering a glimpse into the quality, authenticity, and creativity behind each offering. In a society where gift-giving is an art form and first impressions are paramount, meticulously designed packaging adds an extra layer of significance to the act of sharing and receiving food items.

Moreover, the visual appeal of packaging extends beyond mere functionality, serving as a form of self-expression and cultural identity. Whether it’s the vibrant colours of seasonal releases or the minimalist elegance of traditional flavours, KitKat packaging in Japan encapsulates the essence of Japanese design philosophy, making it an integral part of the overall consumer experience.

The Cultural Impact of KitKats and Beyond

Incorporation of KitKats into Japanese Media and Entertainment

KitKats have seamlessly integrated into various facets of Japanese popular culture, making appearances in television shows, movies, and even music videos. Their ubiquitous presence in media not only reinforces their status as cultural icons but also serves as a reflection of their widespread popularity and recognition among the Japanese populace.

Influence on Tourism and Souvenir Culture

For tourists visiting Japan, KitKats have become more than just a tasty treat; they’re a quintessential souvenir encapsulating the essence of their Japanese experience. Visitors flock to local convenience stores and specialty shops in search of exclusive flavours and limited edition releases, turning KitKat hunting into a cherished aspect of their travel adventures.

Global Fascination with Japanese KitKat Flavours

The allure of Japanese KitKat flavours extends far beyond the shores of Japan, captivating audiences worldwide. Social media platforms are awash with posts showcasing the latest and most innovative flavour offerings, sparking curiosity and envy among those outside Japan. This global fascination underscores the universal appeal of KitKats and their ability to transcend cultural boundaries.

Future Trends and Possibilities

As KitKats continue to captivate audiences around the world, the possibilities for future innovation and expansion are endless. Nestlé Japan’s commitment to experimentation and creativity ensures that there will always be something new and exciting on the horizon, keeping consumers eagerly anticipating the next flavour sensation.

Whether it’s further collaborations with local artisans, innovative packaging designs, or unexpected flavour combinations, the future of KitKats in Japan and beyond is ripe with potential for continued cultural impact and culinary delight.

Japanese Kitkat flavours: a global pop culture symbol banner


Throughout this exploration, we’ve delved into the fascinating world of KitKats in Japan, uncovering their rich history, cultural significance, and enduring popularity. From their humble origins in the UK to their transformation into cultural icons in Japan, KitKats have captured the hearts and taste buds of millions.

The enduring popularity of KitKats in Japan can be attributed to a combination of factors. These include clever marketing strategies, innovative flavour offerings, and a deep cultural resonance – not least due to it’s close resemblance of the Japanese good fortune phrase “Kitto Katsu”. KitKat’s ability to adapt and evolve with the times while remaining true to their roots is a testament to their enduring appeal.

Explore the Story of KitKats in Japan for Yourself!

While we’ve scratched the surface of KitKat’s cultural significance in Japan, there is still much to explore. From their impact on gift-giving traditions to their influence on tourism and media, KitKats offer a window into the complex tapestry of Japanese culture waiting to be further unravelled.

As we conclude our journey through the world of KitKats in Japan, one thing is clear: these seemingly simple chocolate bars have left a lasting mark on Japanese society. Whether enjoyed as a sweet indulgence or cherished as a symbol of luck and success, KitKats will continue to captivate and delight generations to come.

So, the next time you unwrap a KitKat, take a moment to savour not just its delicious flavour, but also the rich cultural heritage it represents.

Japanese Kitkat flavours: a global pop culture symbol

Have you been lucky enough to try any Japanese KitKat flavours yourself? Why not shop for some online and give them a go!

Explore my blog section about pop art, here. Don’t forget to explore my range of pop art paintings in my online shop – where you can also purchase prints, with fast worldwide delivery.

View my full range of Jackson Pollock-inspired pop art paintings and prints of your favourite music and pop culture icons at www.bykerwin.com. High-definition printing, fast worldwide delivery and satisfaction guaranteed. You can follow my art progress on Instagram and Facebook.

By Kerwin pop art music paintings at The Other Art Fair London panoramic landscape photo

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