Unless you’re pop superstar Olivia Rodrigo, you have no business posing for selfies in the snack aisle of a Japanese supermarket. Seriously! Supermarkets can be crowded and overwhelming with choices, as it is. And if you’re like me and want to avoid photobombing Gen Z influencers — but still want to get your snack fix — getting curated treats delivered right to your door might be exactly what you need. Not only is Sakuraco’s Japanese snack box “good 4 you,” as a monthly subscription, it will keep you “happy and healthy.”
The brainchild of Ayumi Chikamoto, Sakuraco is an amalgamation of American business ingenuity and the authentic Japanese experience. “Around 2014, there was a boom in subscription boxes in the U.S., such as ‘Dollar Shave Club’ and ‘Loot Crate,’ and I thought it was a very interesting business model that I had never seen in Japan,” Chikamoto says. “I wanted to create an immersive Japanese experience with our boxes, not just a simple transaction.”
Chikamoto and her business partner released their first subscription box service, TokyoTreat, in March 2015. Following the success of TokyoTreat, they added several other categories, including kawaii goods, cosmetics, and marketplace. Just this year, they launched Sakuraco. Delivered straight from Japan, the subscription box is packed with yummy treats and a booklet that describes each of the goodies in English (in case you don’t read Japanese!).
However, Chikamoto acknowledges the challenges that she’s faced. In fact, she and her team built their company’s infrastructure from the ground up, from designing and developing the website, to marketing, product purchasing, making custom boxes and booklets, and even packaging and delivery. “We did it all ourselves,” Chikamoto shares. “We started the business in a room in my home, but there was so much to do to get the business up and running that we were working nonstop.”
Aside from overcoming business obstacles, female entrepreneurs in Japan are rare because Japan remains a very patriarchal society, with the deeply entrenched stereotype that men go to work and women raise the children. Chikamoto points out that it is still common practice for many women to leave the workforce once they get married or have children because the work environment does not afford them any flexibility, which is why she emphasizes the independence that entrepreneurship brings her.
“After I launched my business, I got married and had two children. It was and is an immense challenge, but I like to think that I am a firsthand example that proves it is possible to balance running a company and raising a family,” Chikamoto explains. “I am convinced that women can be just as active in society as men. In this day and age, women have more choices than ever before, such as whether or not to get married, and whether or not to have children.”
Balancing pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare along with running a company is not an easy task, Chikamoto recognizes. “With the support of my employees and family, I am able to do so. I believe that there will always be people who will support you, so don’t be afraid to take on challenges just because you are a woman.”
I invited my mother and middle-aged influencer, Gale Tan, a.k.a. The Runaway Dumpling, to join me on this teatime snack-venture. We can’t wait to share our stomachs with you — wait, that doesn’t sound right. Continue reading to eat vicariously through us! (Uhm, we will keep working on that.)
Off the top, it was hard not to notice that there was such a great spread here, from jellies to crunchy snacks, from sweet to savory and spicy. And how much was packed in the box! Before digging in, we started by preparing the tea — a Sencha tea, a green tea that is milder and reminds me of earthy grains. Gale noted that the tea being on the more mild side allows it to pair well with all the items in the box. It was clear that the quality of the tea was superb because the flavor had depth and was simply delicious in and of itself.
Although the tea transported us to a moment of zen, I couldn’t wait to dig in. Anyone who knows me knows that I love apples, so I immediately dug into the Spring Water Utage Jelly. As opposed to American Jell-Os, which are super sweet and sometimes too rubbery, this jelly was juicy, refreshing, and had a light apple taste. Gale went for the Tiramisu Baumkuchen, a fragrant round slice of cake with traces of coffee liqueur. There was definitely enough for both of us, and although we found the cake to be a bit dry, it was packed with flavor and went well with the tea.
My favorite was Petit Kabuki Crackers, although I was reluctant to try at first. Upon opening the package, I knew this was not a sweet snack from the soy sauce aromas emanating from the rice crackers. A self-proclaimed sweet tooth, I cautiously bit into a piece and my tastebuds quickly recognized them as an addictive snack from my childhood. Another kind of cracker transported Gale back to her own childhood. The opposite of the rice crackers, Ukai Senbai is a thin and crispy, lightly sweetened, egg and wheat flour cracker.
Gale and I both said that next time we would pass on the Tokyo Banana Manju, although it’s a very fun and popular treat that comes in the shape of a peelable yellow banana. With a yellow egg dough peel, it’s popular with tourists and as gifts, but it’s a bit too starchy with its white bean banana filling for our tastes.
The most interesting snack in the box had to be the Melonpan, a melon-flavored bread made from mixing dough with melon custard. Melon-flavored bread was just completely unheard of for us — but sure enough, it was fluffy, like a Hawaiian loaf but with a bit of honeydew flavor peeking through.
By this point, our stomachs were feeling a bit full! But I cannot forget to mention that there was still so much left in our box, like shrimp and sesame-flavored mochi, spicy cod roe-flavored beans, a Meiji Era red bean cake, and handmade ginger hard candies.
Overall, the Sakuraco snack box left us feeling so satisfied and took us away from the harsh realities of staying at home for the past two years due to the pandemic. Most importantly, both Gale and I took a break from our busy lives to reminisce and spend time together as mother and daughter — which I have to say was the best part of the whole experience. In that way, the snack experience truly delivered as a little escape from home while being at home, and I can’t wait to someday visit Japan!
Sakuraco features 20 authentic and traditional Japanese sweets and teas each month. Focusing on the unique beauty and culture of Japan, each item featured in Sakuraco is sourced from small-scale, local makers. Order at sakura.co and experience a new journey through Japan every month with Sakuraco.
Gale Tan is a classically trained chef who has worked as a culinary instructor at the Art Institute and as resident chef for Sur La Table. She is a mother and grandmother who, aside from cooking, enjoys traveling, hiking, foraging, and paragliding. Follow the adventures of this 50+ years young Asian American woman on Instagram @TheRunawayDumpling.