For thousands of years, the production of sweets has been deeply connected to Japan’s cultural and economic life. Fujiya and their iconic mascot, Peko Chan, are just one of the household names of Japanese sweets. For many around the world, they hold a special place in the hearts of those who nostalgically remember Milky brand candies from their childhood and continue to buy them today. Yet, the company has a history that paints a surprising picture of Japanese history during the Meiji period as well as the post-war years.
Figure 1. Peko-chan and Poko-kun. Image courtesy of Fujiya Co.
Peko-chan products are available at Asahi Imports.
- The Fascinating History of Fujiya Company
What was it about Fujiya’s products that made them famous? Part of the answer lies in the era that Fujiya was established. In 1910, Fujiya’s founder Rin’emon Fujii (1885-1968) opened a bakery named Fujiya. Originally, Fujiya specialized in producing and selling British-style fruit cakes for Christmas. This was the first time in Japan’s history that an individual in the country founded a business devoted to baking and selling British sweets. During the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan re-opened the country to tourists, allowing for new exchanges of food and culture. Western inspired sweets made in Japan are called yougashi and the term was coined during the Meiji era. The term was created to distinguish sweets influenced by Western culture from wagashi, or traditional Japanese confectionaries.
In 1912, Fujii traveled to Los Angelos to work in the food industry, returning to Japan in 1922 to include shortcakes on Fujiya’s menu. Wanting more product diversity, Fujii experimented with creating candies during and after WWII. From 1950-1955, food shortages were plaguing communities in Japan. Nutrient rich foods such as milk, other dairy products, eggs, and meats were in short supply. In 1950, Peko-chan was born and her famous Milky brand soft milk candies debuted in 1951. Peko-chan is a six year old girl who’s stylized appearance references 20th century Western media and children. Peko-chan’s name references the Japanese onomatopoeia “peko peko,” or the creaky sound a starved body makes. Milky was a solution to Japan’s need to eat readily available foods during times of hardship. This means that Peko-chan herself was a product of the post-WWII Japanese food crisis. Peko-chan grew out of this tumultuous period in her life, becoming the poster child of Fujiya candies permanently.
Figure 2. “Milky,” soft milk candy package. Image courtesy of Japanese Taste.
Milky and Japanese milk candy is available at Asahi Imports.
- What’s So Special About Fujiya’s Milk Candy?
Although the original Milky candy was a soft chewy milk candy, Fujiya has branched out and created other milk candy textures such as hard, airy, and crunchy. Milky utilizes fresh cream that makes each piece delightfully sweet. Hokkaido milk is the secret to Milky’s satisfying candy quality. Hokkaido is Japan’s leading exporter of dairy, and the region is known for their incredible milk. For many Japanese adults who grew up in post-war Japan, Milky is very nostalgic. Milky and Peko-chan remind people of their childhoods and the joy they felt trying milk candy for the first time.
Figure 3. “Peko Poko Chocolate” and “Peko Poko Choco Biscuits.” Images courtesy of Fujiya Co.
Peko Poko chocolates and Peko Poko cookies available at Asahi Imports.
Peko-chan and Asahi Imports
Growing up, many of our staff members remember their positive experiences of Peko-chan milk candy and it’s one of the reasons we stock it in our store. Currently, we have a diverse selection of Peko Poko goodies and an assortment of Peko-chan milk candies. Our store carries the original Milky brand hard and soft chew milk candies. We have Peko-chan’s crispy milk candy biscuit straws that make a great addition to any drink! We’ve got the adorably packaged Peko Poko Chocolate lollipop series and Peko Poko brand cookies. Also, our overall selection of Fujiya products includes their most popular drinks, cookies, and chocolates too. We want to spread our love of Peko-chan and her story to everyone in Austin, TX. On your next trip to Asahi Imports, experience an amazing part of Japan’s history with Peko-chan’s Milky candies!