This event is just insane. I have never seen so many Japanese people who seem to be so naive. One minute they are calmly waiting in line to purchase chocolates, and the next they are carelessly treading on your foot without even glancing in your direction. The culture of chocolate in Japan is becoming more popular these days. Every winter, thousands of visitors go to the chocolate festivals that are held in central Japan. These festivals have fast become one of the most intriguing things to do in both Osaka and Tokyo. You were under the impression that the French took their truffles quite seriously.
What to Expect
This is both the dream and the worst nightmare of everyone who is passionate about artisan chocolate. On the one hand, a group of local chocolate enthusiasts have gotten together to import a massive selection of chocolate made by manufacturers located all over the globe. Some of it is more traditional artisanal chocolate, while other parts are more industrial and mass-produced. I discovered bars manufactured in Madagascar, Indonesia, Peru, the United States, and a great many more countries.
You will be blown away by the chocolate choices there, and if you came to the Salon with the intention of purchasing some new bars, you arrived to the perfect location.
On the other hand, everything is exorbitantly costly, even the bars that are manufactured in Japan. The handmade chocolate bars with the lowest price tag that we could find were still less than $4 USD for 50 grams, and they were manufactured in Ecuador by a Japanese business. A portion of the price increase is due to import taxes in Japan as well as the cost of paying for samples, but the majority of it is attributable to the cost of shipping as well as the cost of staffing the booths. In some cases, the price increase is greater than 400% compared to when it was purchased in the country of origin. Participating in these events, displaying your items, and keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll be able to sell what you brought may be rather expensive. The Japanese chocolate manufacturers, on the other hand, were not much better, with most bars weighing in about 40 grams and costing approximately $12 USD each. But despite this, even the country’s finest chocolate is well within the financial reach of almost anybody, which is not something that can be said of wine or even coffee.
However, the majority of tourists do not come to enjoy the superb chocolate bars. They are there since Valentine’s Day is approaching. Despite the fact that Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday, large sales of chocolate are expected in Japan on that day as women rush to get a thoughtful gift for their significant others (and themselves). One month later is White Day, which is essentially the same event but in the other direction. As a result of these peculiar holidays, sales of chocolate in Japan skyrocket to levels that are comparable to those in the United States and Europe. The Japanese population goes bonkers for exquisitely packaged bonbons. In spite of this, the throngs at the Salon du Chocolat in Osaka are still nothing when compared to the multitudes that visit those same businesses throughout Japan in the week before the holiday.
The celebration isn’t going to start and finish with chocolate manufacturers from other countries and Japan, though. In addition, there are dozens of chocolatiers, informative booths, and picture chances, as well as merchants offering a wide variety of confections, including fruit-based chocolates, ice cream, and more. Imagine if everything you eat had a chocolate taste. While one section is devoted to chocolates with flavors inspired by alcoholic beverages, another is filled with chocolate-themed activities and presents geared at children. Similar to shots of sake, but dipped in chocolate instead. Just make sure you don’t forget that these chocolates are some of the most costly you’ve ever seen, despite the fact that they are unquestionably well worth the investment. When compared to the chocolate at Seoul’s Salon du Chocolat, this was on par with eating freshly caught salmon rather than a frozen fish fillet purchased from the supermarket.
Who to Expect
Japanese Chocolate Makers & Chocolatiers
The number of chocolate manufacturers is not even close to competing with the number of chocolatiers hailing from Europe and Japan. Even though Japan is by far the leader in the Asian handmade chocolate movement, as proven by this very Salon du Chocolat, a significant portion of the movement’s founding membership was converted from chocolate imports. This is evidenced by the fact that this particular event is held in Japan. Since around twenty years ago, fancy European chocolates and European-trained chocolatiers have been bringing high-quality chocolates to the public in Japan, and the Japanese public has taken to these chocolates quite rapidly.
Koji Tsuchiya, a former chocolatier who is now a maker and who is famous for his work at the Musee du Chocolat Theobroma, was partly responsible for preparing the general public for the forthcoming craft chocolate movement, and his confections made an appearance on the sales floor. There were perhaps three dozen additional chocolatiers from all across Japan displaying their wares alongside those of Theobroma, including Palet D’or, Royal L’Eclat, and Es Koyama. Even Bvlgari had their own brand of chocolates that they were selling, which came as no surprise to anybody. According to locals, the greatest chocolate in Japan is the kind that comes in the most elaborate packaging and can be presented to the people you care about.
Even the less outstanding examples of Japanese chocolate that we bought had been nicely packaged and carefully labeled due to the fact that Japanese chocolate producers and chocolatiers are aware of this fact. The vast majority of those who were selling chocolates either had a passable command of the English language or understood our yes-or-no inquiries (when asked clearly and slowly in plain English). Although taste is a different story, we didn’t pick up anything that didn’t seem appetizing on our shopping trip. The fact that so many free samples are provided to those who may be interested in making a purchase is fortunate for all of us, and perhaps it has led to an increase in pricing; I was surprised to see how much the cheapest bar cost. The majority of bars weighed either 20 or 50 grams and sold for either 600 or 1600 yen, depending on their weight.
A significant portion of this was contributed by the many artisan chocolate producers from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and even Fukuoka who were displaying their bars to prospective clients in the hope of gaining their business. There were a number of well-known Japanese handmade chocolate companies present that week, including Minimal, Vanilla Beans, Green Bean to Bar, Dari K, and Ichiji. The Japanese chocolate market is not a location that is well-known for having low-quality chocolate or low-priced chocolate. Even the bars from the Americas, which were typically more reasonably priced, saw their costs go up in direct proportion to the amount of distance they had to go.
All Craft Chocolate Makers
There were chocolate bars available for purchase from a wide variety of European and American chocolate manufacturers, including Raaka and Manoa, Willie’s and Akesson’s, with some of the manufacturers appearing in person to man their booths. Others were brought into the country by artisan chocolate wholesalers who sold their wares in Japan. This meant that the selection included anything from value-added chocolate from Madagascar to Peruvian chocolate that was manufactured in Sweden. As a word of caution, the award-winning bars that were being sold at the festival were given their own exhibit at the entrance to the festival. Within that display, Meiji’s inexpensive “bean-to-bar” milk chocolates were also promoted; I’m not sure how much faith I should place in it.
My faith is in the people who really produce the chocolate, and once the chocolatiers make an appearance, it makes me that much more likely to like their product. Willie from Willie’s Chocolate, who has been in the chocolate making business for twenty years, remarked to us when we met him at the Salon du Chocolat in Osaka that he is able to keep prices so low by staying in charge of production himself and buying whole containers of cacao direct from farmers. This allows him to pass the savings on to his customers.
Cacaoken chocolate from Fukuoka stood out to me because of this, and I noticed it when I met the company’s representatives only a few booths away. Milk chocolate is produced by the firm by combining their white chocolate with their 80% dark chocolate in the appropriate proportions. They import complete cacao lots from Vietnam so that they may manage the fermenting process themselves. The most intriguing item of theirs that I had the opportunity to test is a package containing two bars, each weighing 20 grams and selling for 1,400 dong. These bars were manufactured using beans sourced from the same Vietnamese farm, but the beans were fermented for varying amounts of time.
Cacao Hunters and Cacao Sampaka are two international chocolate manufacturers that have a significant presence in Japan and strong relationships to the country. Both companies produce chocolate that is sold on the broad Japanese market. Marou Chocolates, based in Vietnam, and Pipitlin, based in Indonesia, were two of the most renowned brands in the Asian chocolate industry. Both of these brands were noteworthy for manufacturing their bars in the same nation in which the components for their products were manufactured. Over the course of the next ten years, I anticipate and eagerly anticipate the proliferation of many more value-added chocolate producers in cacao producing nations.
Dates: January 28th-February 14th, 2018 | 10am-8pm Sunday to Thursday & 10am-9pm Friday/Saturday
Cost: free to enter
Location: At the Umeda Subway Station is the Hankyu Department Store. (If you are traveling by JR, then you will need to follow the signs for the Midosuji line, and from there you will need to follow the lines for “Hanky Department Store.” Considering how perplexed I became while looking for both this festival and the appropriate department store, I would advise you to inquire at the Subway exit as to which direction Hankyu is located. (You may see a map of the station here.)
About Hankyu Umeda: This shopping mall has a rooftop garden in addition to its 13 retail levels. The winter months are too chilly to spend time on the roof, but the top three levels of the building have a wide variety of eateries and coffee shops. A stage area with seats can be found on the ninth level, in addition to an ice cream store and a few eateries on that floor. Aside from that, the location is teeming with individuals who are shopping for lovely Valentine’s Day gifts before the main celebration. Most of these people are Japanese, but there are also a few visitors.
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Have you ever visited a chocolate festival in Japan or elsewhere? Would you like to visit this one?