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BIG IN JAPAN
Pocky

Pocky packettWho can fail to notice that a huge portion of the Japanese populace are addicts. They are under the spell of wicked stick-demons, consumed through the mouth, devastatingly addictive and - as is common knowledge, these days - destructively unhealthy. Japan is a nation of Pokaholics.

The Osaka Pocky Barons profiting from these unwitting addicts are Glico Corporation, who launched the first variety of milk chocolate-dipped wheat sticks in 1965, priced JY60 a box. The success of Chocoteck - as they were known at first - astounded even Glico, with sales in the first two years reaching JY30 billion, three times the estimate. Chocoteck soon evolved into Pocky in recognition of the "pockin" sound they make when munched.
It was the "swinging sixties" and the launch of the new snack was revolutionary amongst Japanese adolescents. In an interview for his official fanzine, Aska of the ubiquitous Chage and Aska J-Pop duo, recalled how, as a primary school kid, he would hallucinate about the "tasty bamboo-like snack." Some, but not all, would feel a curious sense of heat when eating Pocky and it became a popular conclusion that those who did were somehow more sensitive people than the rest. Aska accordingly accredits his bashful self-confidence to a healthy diet of Pocky when young.

Popular demand ensured the launch of a second flavor, Almond Pocky, in 1971, followed by Strawberry six years later. These days there is a new flavor released each fall and nobody seems to know exactly how many varieties there are in total as not all flavors are available in all places. Grape-flavored Pocky, from Nagano, are exceedingly rare. The local Kyushu specialty is a lemony-mikan flavored Pocky. Sightings of the Hokkaido omiyage-sized Giant Yubari Melon Pocky are highly prized by Pocky-watchers. Because Glico likes to test its new flavors on rural folk, some varieties pass in and out of the market without ever catching the beady eyes of the urban Pocky classes.

Pocky sticksHowever, it is not unknown for city addicts to make special excursions into rural Tohoku in pursuit of reported Pocky sightings. A community of these social outcasts has spawned on the Internet, providing mutual support as well as hints on where you can get your hit when forced to leave Japan for more than a few days, breaking news on new flavors, how to spot poor imitations and so on. One of the most popular of these "PA" forums is the Wonderful World of Pocky, linked via the Tokyo Food Page (www.bento.com). There you can be reassured that there is a Glico store in Vancouver, and that Pocky are available down under from a small supermarket in suburban Sydney. Most vacationing Pockoholics can be found at accommodating locations in the US or in Thailand, where Pocky are widely available in 7-Eleven.

If this was the West, Pocky would have government health warnings on the boxes and Glico would be facing bankruptcy litigation for knowingly luring millions of unwitting adults and children into chocoholicism, with all the associated consequences for social cohesion. Pocky eaters would be huddled on street corners, forced to fulfill their cravings under the scornful eyes of unblemished passersby. But Pokaholics, beware! Fake Pocky are besieging the market with poor quality efforts such as the scandalously named "Chocky." Even the counterfeiters in the back streets of Bangkok are moving from fake Armani to fake Pocky, detectable by their under-priced, oversized boxes. Pocky: the world' first designer chocolate, made in Japan.


Charlie Spreckley
 

BIG IN JAPAN:
299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
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296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
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294: Enoki Takaaki
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293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
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291: Issey Miyake
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290: Murakami Ryu
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281: Nasubi
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279: Nakamura Kichiemon
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278: Oe Kenzaburo
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261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
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260: Chiyotaikai
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259: Pocky
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257: Pocket Monsters
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256: Classified ads
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255: Chara
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254: Pink Lady
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