As a graphic designer with an incurable sweet tooth, there’s no better place to be stuck for hours than Japan’s Narita Airport. When I’m planning a trip to Asia, I choose the longest possible layover there—even wishing for a blessed flight delay. Browsing through the aisles of eye-catching, cleverly packaged Japanese confections is always part of the itinerary. The international airport, which is about an hour’s drive from Tokyo, may not have fancy movie theaters like Singapore’s Changi Airport, a mini-museum of Dutch masterpieces like Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, nor the promise of pre-flight massage services like Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi, but Narita is the premiere source for one precious commodity: Japanese candy.

On a brief layover from Manila to New York last month, I came prepared with an empty carry-on that I gleefully filled with samurai-themed mochi balls, banana-shaped cookies, potato chip-encrusted bonbons, and seaweed-flecked rice cakes packaged like pieces of sushi. The possibilities were limited only by the capacity of my duffle and the inevitable boarding announcement.

Photo by Cliff Borress
Photo by Cliff Borress

Admittedly, the flavor of some items in my loot were not all to my liking (mayonnaise-flavored biscuits, anyone?) but the presentation of each humble treat provides a mini design lesson in graphic wit and Japanese efficiency.

For example, the cracker shaped like tiny person is actually a peanut stacked on a stick of rice biscuit. These two-inch pocket snacks are clothed in vivid kimono patterns printed on plastic wrappers. Holding one in my hand, I cannot help but pause before unwrapping each treat—it’s design providing a moment of zen-like graphic satisfaction before the first bite.

The curious wrapper of box called “Tokyo Banana Pie” showcases three yellow bananas triumphantly escaping from the droll step-and-repeat pattern in the background. It was too precious to pass on—or open for that matter. I still don’t know how it tastes. Unwrapping another large rectangular box reveals an organized assortment of items from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. A city sampler of products made by local confectionary shops, the traveler-friendly box is designed for the tourist to take home, or for a Hokkaido local to gift. After all, could there be a more delightful way to introduce one’s city—or country—than through its delicacies? #nomnomnom