Konpeito, those crunchy little bites of sugary sweetness, bumpy and star-shaped, are held in high regard as a traditional Japanese sweet. The word konpeito actually originates from the Portuguese word confeito, a sugar candy. Portuguese traders introduced the sweet and its production method to Japan in the 16th century. At that time, sugar was a valuable commodity, making konpeito a rare and effective gift from the Portuguese missionaries.
Each individual candy starts out as a grain of sugar, then, through a multi-day process, is layered with consecutive coatings of sugar syrup as it is heated and rotated. This process helps the telltale bumps form on the surface of the candy. The candies are available in a multitude of colors, with some shops offering a variety of flavors such as mango, watermelon, black sesame, yogurt, chestnut, and even brandy. A popular souvenir item, you can find the product at supermarkets, candy stores, and souvenir shops. If you’re short on time, check out the confectionery shops at train stations or the airports. The sweets are usually packaged in clear cellophane bags or glass jars. You’ll also see them as one of the items in candy boxes with divided compartments for assorted sweets.
If you’re traveling in the spring, you may find pink sakura-flavored (cherry blossom) konpeito. The colors, like those used in so many Japanese products, reflect attention to the season. During the holidays, look for chocolate konpeito featured for Valentine’s Day and red and green konpeito for Christmas.
Because they’re hard and small, konpeito candies are easy to transport and difficult to break- making for an ideal souvenir to bring home. And if you’re buying souvenirs for fans of film director Hayao Miyazaki, they’ll remember konpeito as the little colored candies that Lin, the boiler room worker, fed to the soot sprites in the blockbuster, Spirited Away.