What is dagashi?Dagashi candies (駄菓子) refer to inexpensive candies of lower quality that kids can usually afford with their pocket money. The variety of different dagashi is huge and sometimes people don’t even refer to specific brands, but rather just say dagashi to all candies of that kind. Their history reaches as far back as the Edo period (1603 - 1868) where candy made from white sugar was an expensive treat called jōgashi. In contrast, more affordable sweets made from starch or grains was called dagashi. So since the very beginning, the term dagashi was used to describe inexpensive candies that common people can afford. The popularity of dagashi reached its peak between the 1950s and 1970s. At that time, every Japanese town had its own dagashi store (駄菓子屋, dagashiya) where kids would buy their after-school snacks. Since most kids don’t want to spend a lot of money, but at the same time get as much candy as possible, dagashi candies are usually very small and wrapped individually. That way, customers can buy a little bit of every snack without paying a fortune.
Dagashi storesDagashi stores are colorful, nostalgic and unfortunately a rarity nowadays. Most of these stores look just like you would expect a candy store to look like. They are small, sometimes crowded with kids and have lots of shelves filled with candies from all over Japan. The variety of dagashi is huge and there is always something new to discover at your local dagashi store. Many of them also sell small toys or give kids the chance to win prizes in the form of free candy. As I’ve already mentioned, until the 1970s dagashi stores could be found all over Japan. After that time, many stores had to close down since the Japanese economy developed rapidly and kids got enough pocket money to buy their candies from supermarkets or convenience stores. At the same time, Japan’s birth rate has been significantly declining over the years and the number of kids eager to buy dagashi has sunk. That doesn’t mean that all dagashi stores have disappeared. They can still be found nowadays, even in the metropolitan Tokyo. Filled with nostalgia and - of course - dagashi they are still able to attract kids of all ages.
Future of dagashiNowadays, dagashi can be found in convenience stores and 100-Yen shops. They are still affordable, but finding candies for 5 ¥ - 10 ¥ like back in the 1950s is harder to do these days. There is a glimmer of hope for traditional dagashi. At the time when Japan’s economy started booming, the cheap candies were seen as old-fashioned and outdated. Many people expected dagashi to disappear completely and make space for newer and more exciting candies. However, recent trends suggest that adults feel great nostalgia for the candies of their childhood and want them back. So what’s happening right now? Japan is doing what it’s best at and is putting a new twist to the old products. More and more dagashi stores which resemble the traditional stores of the Showa era of Japan (1926 - 1989) have opened in recent years. Dagashi stands show up at school festivals and you can even hear about dagashi bars which combine the traditional candies with modern cuisine. The future of dagashi doesn’t look too bad. The kids that have enjoyed the cheap candies many years ago are now adults and have children of their own. What better time than now to bring dagashi back?
I hope you enjoyed our small excursion into the history of Japanese candy. I am sure that many of you love the weird and extravagant sweets of today, but sometimes you have to go back to the roots and take a look at where everything started.
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Did you grow up with small candy stores and cheap candies yourself? Let us know how you feel about dagashi and similar inexpensive sweets in the comment section down below.