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.