Why is Kit Kat popular in Japan?

Other former Rowntree’s sweets sold by Nestle like Polo mints have quickly disappeared in Japan and most Mars and Cadbury sweets (Milky Way, Fruit and Nut etc.) are limited to import shops, but for some reason every convenience store and airport shop in Japan has Kit Kats, often in bizarre flavours like cherry blossom. It could well be this use of the very Japanese approach of innovation into craziness by lots of small changes that has made Kit Kat a success here, and foreign tourists buying molasses syrup and bean powder Kit Kat to “impress” their relatives back home can’t hurt. However, the latest edition of the British Chambers of Commerce Japan newsletter has another explanation:

“In Japan, those studying for entrance exams consider the chocolate good luck, because the name, as pronounced by the Japanese, sounds like the phrase kitto katsu (you’re sure to win)”.

Not sure how much of their market that could explain, but buying foods due to ridiculous and tenuous connections between their names and good luck has a long history in Japan, probably originally borrowed from China. See the Japanese New Year page for many examples of this.

For more practical tips on getting British (and kind of British) food in Japan, see my other Japan blog Tips for Brits in Tokyo.

Why is Japanese “ken” translated as “prefecture”?

I don’t know why it took me ten years to look up the answer to this nagging question on Wikipedia, because the answer to that question has been waiting for me there:

“The origins of the Western term prefecture being used to describe Japanese subdivisions date from 15th century Portuguese contact with Japan, whereby the word prefeitura was used to very roughly describe Japanese fiefdoms, in Portuguese the original meaning was more analogous to municipalities than provinces. (Reciprocally today, Japanese uses the character ken –  to refer to Portuguese districts.)”

Why is the Japanese parliament called the Diet?

Not only have I always wondered this, I’ve had my Japanese students asking me. However, only now got round to researching it. I did already know most of this Wikipedia entry:

“The word diet derives from Latin and was a common name for an assembly in medieval Germany. The Meiji constitution was largely based on the form of constitutional monarchy found in nineteenth century Prussia and the new Diet was modeled partly on the German Reichstag…”

but that still leaves open the question of whether foreign commentators invented the expressions (like “bullet train”) or if the Japanese people setting the Diet up chose the description of it in English (the Japanese expression “kokkai” always being used when speaking that language).

In either case, I wonder if they didn’t choose the word “parliament” because they didn’t want it to sound like a real parliament, given the powers of the Emperor and in the case of Westerners perhaps their unwillingness to accept that an Asian country could run a real democracy.