Although Japan is widely recognized for its innovations in the field of technology, one of their most delectable contributions to the world of innovation is in the field of fine chocolate. There is a compelling justification behind the well-known Belgian chocolate manufacturer Callebaut’s decision to make their Ruby Chocolate first available in Japan.
Although the culture of fine chocolate in Japan is still quite young, it has been on the rise for decades, ever since European chocolatiers first entered the Japanese market in the 1970s. This is despite the fact that the culture is still quite young. However, these chocolatiers did not start facing competition in the bonbons market until the early 2000s. Holidays that involve giving chocolate gifts, such as Valentine’s Day, started gaining popularity, and social networking made the aesthetics of a chocolate more important than they had ever been before.
You can learn more about the history of Japanese chocolate by reading more about it on this site or even listening to a podcast about it.
Context Of The Craft Chocolate Market In Japan
European chocolatiers have, for a number of years, been attempting to capture a portion of the expanding fine chocolate market in Japan, and for the most part, they have been successful. Craft chocolate, on the other hand, has emerged as a serious contender in the battle for the top spot in the chocolate market over the past decade. Craft chocolate brands, on the other hand, are typically designed to be on the smaller side, which prevents many of them from exhibiting at Japan’s typically large chocolate events.
Despite the fact that well-known chocolatiers and larger chocolate makers or chocolate manufacturers have made it a point to appear at shows like the Salon Du Chocolat, the cost is unaffordable for the vast majority of Japan’s many craft chocolate makers. This is especially true during the last couple of weeks of January, when creators are attempting to sell as much as they can without spending any additional money on a booth.
After all, it’s not a coincidence that every chocolate festival in Japan takes place at exactly the same time. The majority of them occur between the middle of January and the middle of February, which is peak season for chocolate because of Valentine’s Day in Japan. In point of fact, crowds at local chocolate festivals can number in the thousands; the fixation on fine and specialized foods can be a significant cultural shock in Japan.
However, as the number of makers of artisanal chocolate from around the world has increased in Japan, a solution has emerged. Because there are nearly two dozen small-batch chocolate makers in Tokyo alone, the city was the obvious choice to host Japan’s first fine chocolate festival, which was dubbed The Craft Chocolate Market and kicked off in 2016. The “CCM,” which is a three-day event beginning with a reception on the evening of Friday and continuing through market days on Saturday and Sunday, has become a focal point of high season for chocolate in Japan. The Chocolate Culture Market is, much like every other chocolate festival in Japan, absolutely packed at all times.
However, in contrast to other Japanese chocolate festivals, which typically take place in and around the larger cities and feature pop-up markets, this particular event is invite-only rather than fee-based. Crafters are still required to pay a fee in order to exhibit their wares at the Craft Chocolate Market. However, in contrast to the Salon du Chocolat franchise, which holds shows in each of Japan’s most important cities every winter, this event is reserved exclusively for makers of small batches of chocolate. No chocolatiers or chocolate manufacturers are permitted, and there is absolutely no room for coffee or cosmetics, as is typical in Japanese chocolate salons known as Salons du Chocolat.
Why A Craft Chocolate Festival?
Since its inception in 2003, the Salon du Chocolat Japan has established itself as one of the most important chocolate shows in Japan. The event features tastings, pairings, lectures, and seminars, as well as a fashion show with a chocolate theme. Their shows last anywhere from three to four weeks, are open on a daily basis, and the entrance fee for the show in Tokyo must be paid on an hourly basis. The only one of these features—including all of these others—that was preserved by the CCM was the entrance tickets. The Craft Chocolate Market is extremely limited in size, takes place outside of Tokyo’s central business district, lasts for only two days, and does not feature any other planned events besides the reception.
However, these distinctions, in a way, reflect the very goals of the craft chocolate industry as a whole, which are to keep it small and under control, working only with components that have been carefully chosen. That does not imply that the event is not still pretty packed, but it does represent an alternative to the Salons, while also giving consumers and makers a venue in which to interact that is more cost-effective.
In addition to this, it broadens Japanese consumers’ exposure to artisan chocolatiers working in other countries, which is something Japan desperately needs. There is almost no infrastructure for foreign chocolate manufacturers to use in order to access the Japanese market. The concept of online shopping is not nearly as developed in Japan as it is in other countries, and the country as a whole has a dearth of stores that sell a variety of makers’ bars. Those who wish to enter the market are forced to choose between two options: either they attend the events or they give up. And it’s not acceptable for people to give up on the good chocolate.
The Pros & Cons Of The CCM
As soon as you entered the actual exhibition, you could immediately see that this was an extremely packed event. This is despite the fact that many of the producers who were meant to arrive only had bars representing themselves, as stated on the website. To be quite honest, however, we did come in the first place for the chocolate. And a few of the producers truly wowed me with their delectable and imaginative wares. St. Nicholas, Atypic, and IMALIVE are three that stand out as particularly remarkable examples.
Unfortunately, the overseas manufacturers were only allowed to bring in three bars apiece, unless they already had a presence in the Japanese market; this gave the domestic manufacturers an advantage. I was fortunate in that some of the visiting producers had brought along “personal” bars for sharing, and I was able to either get or sample a couple of them. If you asked, it was a pleasant way to sample a variety of their products, and it certainly makes you feel as like you are more a part of the event (plus getting a better sense of their skill sets).
The Fleming House, which serves as the location, is not a very large space. It is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the enormous hallways of department stores that are used for the Salons du Chocolat. But considering how costly it is to rent any space in Japan, it makes perfect sense for it to take place in that country. Tickets can be purchased for a time slot that lasts for fifty minutes, and at the end of each one, there is a ten-minute window during which stragglers are rounded up and photographs are taken. This is reasonable if your only goal is to shop, but it makes it more difficult for those who have other objectives.
It is not prohibitively costly by any means, coming in at roughly $6 USD per hour, but it is annoying that tickets will not be available for purchase until exactly one month before the event.
I wasn’t even aware that there was going to be a reception on the Friday night before the event until several months after I had already purchased my tickets to Tokyo!
Although the purpose of the tickets is to limit the size of the audience rather than to generate significant revenue from the exhibits, attendees are required to have them in order to participate in the event, and they do sell out quickly during the earlier time slots (so be sure to start checking for their posting in November).
Dandelion Chocolate, an international handmade chocolate producer that has been establishing itself in the Japanese market rather effectively, will be hosting the event. Dandelion Chocolate is also one of the sponsors of the event. Fleming House is conveniently located near both Tokyo’s public transit system and another chocolate manufacturer, despite the fact that they could improve the speed with which they provide information to participants (Artichoke Chocolate).
Craft Chocolate Market Trends & Takeaways
Having someone there to represent your bars seemed to make a huge difference, and most makers didn’t make the trip, unfortunately.
Since the show is invite-only, the number and type of makers wasn’t limited by who could pay, but by skill. So unlike at the bigger shows in Japan, there were lots of newer makers, some of them even showing outside of their home country for the first time. There was a noticeable presence of tree-to-bar and value-added chocolate makers (not necessarily the farmers themselves, but chocolate makers located in the same country as where the cacao was grown).
The Japanese chocolate makers at the show all had something which made them stand out from the crowd, and for some of them that meant a direct relationship with farmers in one country. For example, Japanese chocolate maker Cacaoken, which works with farmers in Vietnam.
Cacao nibs and “raw” chocolate have also become quite the trends as the Japanese public turns towards chocolate as a health food. The public’s interest was definitely directed towards growing regions with less public exposure, like Taiwan, India, and the South Pacific, as the same uniqueness which attracts craft chocolate fanatics around the world also attracts Japanese consumers. We all want to feel as if we’ve “discovered” something before our friends.
Tips For Visiting The CCM
The hall itself is incredibly small and so it gets incredibly loud & crowded, much like other chocolate festivals in Japan. I highly recommend bringing a small bag for your purchases, and otherwise limiting yourself to the bare necessities.
Even just having my camera felt crowded, and other than right at the end of the sections, it was hard to get any pictures. To be able to sample and work my way through all 20 or so makers took three 1-hour sessions, but if the event gets any bigger I’ll need to invest in an extra ticket.
If you’re interested in meeting some of the international makers, the night before the 2-day event there’s a ticketed reception for makers and members of the public. When I attended, there were chocolate makers from Korea visiting Tokyo for the weekend, and they used the opportunity to make connections with makers from around the world. Even if you’re not producing anything in the industry, the ruckus created around an event brings a fair amount of people interested in the same community as you.
It’s an opportunity that’s hard to pass over!
How To Visit The Craft Chocolate Market
Next Show Dates: January 2020 | 11am-5pm Saturday & Sunday (keep an eye on the website for exact dates & makers, and to buy tickets)
Cost: ¥700 per ticket (one ticket needed per hour)
Location: Fleming House, near Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Metro Station
Address: 2 Chome-6-10 Miyoshi, Kōtō-ku, Tōkyō-to 135-0022, Japan