Today I’m covering one of the biggest unexpected forms of culture shock that many Americans experience when they get to Japan: Breakfast cereal.
In America, we’re accustomed to full grocery story aisles dedicated to big, colorful cereal boxes. The boxes are covered with cartoon mascots that are advertised to kids since birth. In Japan, the role of cereal is a bit… less prominent.
Let’s cover 9 big things that differ about cereal in Japan, compared to what I grew up with in America.
1. The “Cereal Aisle” Is Not a Full Aisle.
The first thing to know is that cereal is much less popular in Japan than it is in America and many other countries.
Even when Japanese people do eat cereal, it’s not viewed as a breakfast staple. And it’s sometimes just eaten as a snack. For example, it’s often eaten dry or used as a topping for sweets like ice cream.
As a result, the “cereal aisle” is not actually a full aisle in most Japanese grocery stores.
Here’s a video showing the cereal selection in a Japanese supermarket. As the video shows in detail, the “cereal aisle” is just a small area.
2. Cereal Options in Japan Are Growing.
To add a counterpoint to the first point, it does seem that the Japanese cereal market is growing in recent years. In fact, according to one report I could find, it grew 25% in 2016.
The cereal selection in Japan used to be really sparse—just the basic Corn Flakes, granola, and similar. Today, it’s still a bit sparse… but less so. There are a growing number of sweet and flavored cereals available in Japan every year.
Below is a video of two foreigners trying a mix of Japanese cereals and rating them in 2020. Unfortunately, many of their ratings are pretty low. They only had one cereal to actually recommend from the bunch:
3. Japanese Cereal Comes in Resealable Bags (Usually).
In America, we’re accustomed to cereal being packaged in boxes. Then inside, there’s a bag that you have to roll up after it’s been opened. I’ve found this in Japan, but it’s less common.
In Japan, it’s much more common for cereal to come in bags. Often, they are resealable bags with a “Ziploc” type of seal across the top. This is actually more convenient than American cereal boxes—so props to Japan for innovating.
When Japanese cereal does come in boxes, the boxes are much smaller than cereal boxes in America—even though the prices are about the same.
The smaller boxes and higher prices apparently reflect that cereal is not as much of a staple in Japan. It’s viewed as more of an occasional snack, rather than a daily go-to meal.
4. Japan Doesn’t Have Many American Cereals.
You would think that all the most popular American cereals would be easy to find around the world, including in Japan. But that’s not the case.
There is no Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Cheerios, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Really there are just two American cereals you’ll consistently find in Japan: Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes. Speaking of which…
5. Japan Loves Frosted Flakes.
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes are two of the only American brands of cereal you’ll frequently find in Japan. And Frosted Flakes seems especially popular.
The name for Japanese Frosted Flakes translates roughly to “Corn Frosty.” Tony the Tiger still makes an appearance on the box. But I’ve also seen him joined by Hello Kitty on some boxes.
Basically every discussion you’ll ever read or watch about cereal in Japan will include mention of Frosted Flakes.
But interestingly, the Japanese version of Frosted Flakes are apparently much less sweet compared to American Frosted Flakes. And some Americans who try Frosted Flakes in Japan really don’t like them!
6. Granola Is Popular in Japan.
Although the overall cereal options are pretty limited in Japan, the selection of granola is pretty good.
Granola seems to have captured a disproportionate share of the Japanese market, compared to how it’s viewed in the U.S.
One of the leading brands is Calbree, pictured here. But there seem to be many different brands available.
Japan has all different flavors of granola, too. These come with fruit, chocolate, nuts, and other stuff added—sometimes including a bit more surprising ingredient…
7. They Put Soybeans in Their Granola (Sometimes).
I’ve never heard of a granola in America that has whole soybeans—or any form of soy that I can think of. But there are several flavors and brands in Japan that use soybeans, soy protein, and other legumes.
I saw one brand of Japanese granola that included black soybeans, green soybeans, and yellow soybeans!
This is actually pretty interesting, as it raises the protein content of the cereal considerably. Soybeans are high in fiber, too, so it’s an interesting move from a nutrition perspective, for sure.
8. They Have Green Tea Flavored Cereal.
I’ve seen multiple Japanese cereals flavors based on green tea or matcha. I wouldn’t expect to see this in America, so I thought that was pretty interesting.
Some of these green tea cereals will even turn your milk green—so that’s pretty novel!
However, I would caution against the Hershey’s cereal in Japan with a “chocolate and green tea” flavor. I’ve heard multiple accounts that it smells like pet food and tastes pretty bland.
9. Oatmeal Is a New Trend in Japan.
Oatmeal is growing rapidly in popularity in Japan in the last few years.
In response to the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, many health-conscious Japanese dieters have turned to oatmeal.
Even the American oatmeal brand Quaker can be found in Japan now!
Sometimes, Japanese flavor elements like dashi are added to their oatmeal dishes, too. So they’ve really made it their own. As with other cereals in Japan, oatmeal is not necessarily restricted to just breakfast, either.
So, there you have it—9 facts about cereal in Japan that took me by surprise!
Although the options for cereal in Japan are still limited compared to America, they are growing. When you get to Japan, be sure to check out some of the novel flavors and brands!