It’s the final leg of my sweet journey around the world. And what a last few weeks it would be, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Japan and Korea in what was a fitting end to my epic travels.
I can’t lie, by the time I had reached Japan I was exhausted and a little under the weather. You see I’d committed the cardinal sin of travelling. I’d assumed that spring meant warmth (which it doesn’t) and had neglected to pack appropriate clothing. It’s similar to the ‘of course I’ll wear that at home’ travel syndrome, which sees you buy ridiculous items which look fantastic in-situ but bloody awful at home (see my wardrobe for such gems as Indian weird-toe shoes, Balinese sarongs, a multitude of inappropriately revealing outfits and a Korean neoprene top with a horses arse on it).
I’d organised to meet one of my closest friends, Mariko, who is a wonderful 50/50 mix of Japanese and Kiwi. Meaning she’s not only genetically blessed with brains and beauty, but she also speaks Japanese like a natural and was a perfect candidate for helping me navigate the Japanese candy world.
Tokyo is also the first airport where I had ever been pulled aside for a full search including a pat down. Despite not having anything dodgy, I always get nervous when probed by stern looking people and I swear my face looked as though I was about to confess to being the new head of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel. After they’d found both my NZ and British passports and my body piercing ear stretchers (which in Japan looks too alternative and therefore suspicious) and had stuttered out what to me were logical responses they finally let me go.
It took me about two days to fully recover from flight, flu and pat downs. But then we went to a Japanese supermarket and I found my energy in a candy aisle as long as the intro to a Fat Freddy’s Drop song.
Japan LOVES candy, the variety is absolutely incredible. It makes American candy look like a market stall range. What makes it even cooler is that they have fun with their sweets. The packaging promises crazy times and insane outcomes and yet the flavours move from subtle citruses to full on hyper-state inducing artificial mouth parties.
We bought enough lollies to fill a tiny Tokyo flat and diligently got to work stuffing our mouths while we noted down our favourites in the hopes that somehow I would be able to bring their delights back home.
After we awoke from our food comas we got out of our fat-pants and ventured out to see what Tokyo had to offer. After I allowed my guides to navigate the labyrinth subway maps for me, we got off at Tokyo’s alternative hipster neighbourhood Harajuku.
It’s in this place fulll of tourists, noise and some pretty cool clothing stores that I found an inspirational candy store. Enticed in by a Japanese lass in a milk bar/maid/star trek costume we were all wowed by the fun, and fancy free atmosphere that this store created. I wondered how Wellingtonians would react to me dressed up like that offering lollies to potential patrons on the street. Sadly, I decided that most people in Wellington would look at their feet or phone as they desperately tried not to engage with me as it might call attention to them which is something most Kiwis run a mile from. Also the Wellington wind would turn my family friendly costume into an X-rated peep show as my skirt would soon be sent billowing around my head. But the Harajuku candy store reinforced my belief that candy was about an experience not a product.
After spending a few more days eating traditional soy bean sweets, frolicking in cherry blossoms and being elbowed by fellow tourists at temples, Mariko and I headed off to Korea where I had organised to meet a supplier in Seoul.
Seoul is not Tokyo, it’s not even similar. What Tokyo has in orderliness and over sanitisation Seoul has in a sense of anarchy and street food smells. As a die hard fan of meat and kimchi Seoul is like my culinary mecca. Seoul has gigantic shopping malls open almost 24 hours a day. Which means you can drink beers, then go shop at 2am – this by the way, is under no circumstances a good idea, the proof is in the absolutely unwearable horse’s arse neoprene box t-shirt I paid $70 for at 2:35am (see image).
Deciding not to put on my new neoprene top I headed out on my third day in Seoul to meet a supplier, who was promising wonderfully exotic sweets such as green tea, salty bamboo and red ginseng. ‘Philip’ (I’m pretty sure that’s not his name) and I were scheduled to meet in a café and I made it there bright and early. But after sitting for 15 minutes I remembered, I had no cellphone nor any idea what Philip looked like. After 25 minutes I approached a man who seemed to have a suitcase that I’d decided could potentially be brimming with candy samples. I was right, I’d found Philip. However Philip looked shocked. He had assumed I would be Jen the man, not Jen the dress wearing chica. After assuring me that he had in-fact worked with woman before (seriously he did) we sat down, ate candy and talked business.
Philip sent me off with about 10 kilos of sample candy, non of which could fit into my hand luggage and almost all of which got left to our hotel staff. But I’m glad to say you can sample his company’s sweets in our store, so the trip and disappointing Philip by being a girl was well worth it.
It had been an incredibly tiring two months on the road. But in terms of feeling like a bit of a candy expert it had been completely enriching. I’m not sure I’d ever be game to do a trip of that magnitude again. I feel too old to ‘backpack’ and would prefer to spend more time in one country rather than whirlwind round national monuments.
More to the point though, with bonbons and babes to worry about the one hour train ride into the store is about the biggest holiday I can imagine right now.