Sunday, January 3, 2010

KitKat Resolve

New Year's resolutions are, in my experience, self-defeating propositions. The old year shuffles offstage at long last, taking with it (in this instance) the last overripe fromage of the Bush administration and giving us -- on the personal front -- a nice clean slate to write on.

And do we ever. We make dozens of high-minded resolutions and then spend the rest of the year crossing them out. And that costs us emotionally. It puts dings into our psyches. It's unpleasant to fail at something we care about.

After more New Years than I can comfortably count, I've finally come up with a strategy that will allow me -- or anyone -- to sidestep all that annual guilt. Here it is (are you listening?):

Make resolutions you don't care about.

For 2010, I've resolved to do the single most trivial thing I can think of. I'm going to eat at least
six Japanese KitKat bars, each one a different flavor.

"Ha," one of you scoffs. Six candy bars? That demonstrates resolve?

If that was you who scoffed, you clearly don't know about Japanese KitKat bars.

Many of us see Japan as a sort of parallel universe, where drinks have names like Pocari Sweat and used women's panties are available in vending machines. (Honest.) But once you look at the variety of KitKats developed (and, presumably, eaten) by the Japanese, you're more likely to look at Japan not so much as a parallel universe, but rather as a diverging one.

I owe much of my own knowledge in this area to Bruce Tierney, who lives half of his life in the Land of the Rising Sun and who has his own wonderful blog at Since Bruce is perhaps the West's leading expert on Japanese KitKats, I'll introduce the topic by quoting a recent post:

"For those of you not familiar with Japanese KitKat bars, they come in all sorts of arcane flavors in addition to the normal chocolate wafer bar available stateside. There are Orange, Mango and Apple KitKats. Cherry, Pumpkin and Banana KitKats. All of those are comparatively normal, and reasonably tasty as well. Then there are some more unusual flavors, like Soy Powder, Roasted Corn, and Buttered Baked Potato KitKats."

Yes, buttered baked potato KitKats.

Bruce goes on to offer pictures of two of the most twisted new varieties, Miso Soup KitKat (left) and Wasabi KitKat (the perhaps intentionally poison-green package at the top of the blog.) About the latter, Bruce says, "Wasabi, for those not up on their Japanese condiments, is a piquant Asian horseradish, which when prepared looks like guacamole, but tastes not unlike oven cleaner. I quite like it, actually; nonetheless, I haven’t yet screwed up the courage to try one of the Wasabi KitKats."

As someone who feels that misery deserves company, Bruce occasionally sends my wife and me a little gift package of the newest flavors. Every time I open one of these, I have visions of a bunch of middle-aged, conservatively dressed Japanese men sitting around a table and wiping tear of laughter from their eyes as they toss out new ideas: "Mothballs KitKats?" "Chocolate Wool KitKats?" "Putrefied Sting Ray KitKats?" (Those are for Iceland.) "Kittycat KitKats?"

Here's the latest batch from Bruce. The green one at the top is, um, Ginger Ale. The orange one
below it is, I swear, a Vegetable V-8 KitKat. The one to its right, in the red package, is Royal Milk Tea. The yellowish one below the V-8 is Banana, which is sort of reasonable and will probably be recalled. The yellow diagonal just right of Banana is the ever-popular Baked Sweet Potato, and the blue at left on the bottom is Sports Drink, which suggests nothing to me, and that's probably an accurate description of the flavor. And finally, bottom right, in the long yellow package is (wait for it) a Soy Powder and Red Bean KitKat.

You may wonder whether I've ever actually tasted any of these, especially since all the packages in the picture above are unopened. Well, yes, I did. I forget what flavor it was -- Dried Camel Tongue, maybe -- but I actually opened one from an earlier package and took a healthy bite. It tasted like one of those cardboard pine trees New York cab drivers hang from their rear-view mirrors to make their cab smell even worse than people do.

So my resolution for 2010 is to eat six of the seven KitKats in the photo above, which I took on my dining room table and for which I will accept compliments regarding its composition. I reserve the right to decide which one will go uneaten, although I'm sort of leaning toward skipping the Soy Powder and Red Bean.

And you know what? If I keep my resolutions, I can congratulate myself on my resolve, and if I fail to keep them, I won't have to eat the Vegetable V-8 KitKat. It's a win-win situation.


  1. I have found two ways by which I can be successful at New Year's resolutions.

    First, I don't accept January 1st as the beginning of my new year. With the exception of the years before I was old enough for kindergarten and the four years before my oldest entered pre-school, my year has always started the first Wednesday after Labor Day. Even my pocket calendar is academic. No one has to know what day is my "starting over" day. If new year's day is a personal choice, there is no reason not to have multiple new years within 365 days if things aren't working out. Friends and family aren't expecting announcements of resolutions to be kept so there is no pressure to succeed. The starting line can always be moved with no one the wiser.

    As someone born in the first few years of the baby boom generation, I have the time to succeed at keeping my resolution and, since it is something I want to do, success requires no sacrifice. I resolve to read only the books I want to read. Whether it is a book on the best seller list, a book trumpeted as the best book of a generation, or a book required of anyone claiming literary sophistication (the closest I have come to James Joyce is the interpretation of "Finnegan's Wake" by the Clancy Brothers), I only read books if I like them. If they haven't grabbed me by the first 30 pages, I relegate them to the "not to be read at least not now" pile.

    I usually read three or four books a week; if I fail and only read two, only my library and my Amazon account are witnesses.

    Resolving to do something you want to do is the best kind of win-win situation. Success is such a joy.


  2. I salute you for your resolution. A colleague brought me back a green-tea KitKat from Japan a few years. My head spun and new worlds opened up to me when I saw that green package. Talk about making the familiar strange.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  3. FYI from the KitKat website:

    Launched in 1935 as Chocolate Crisp, KIT KAT was supposedly named after the KitKat Club, an 18th century Whig literacy club. As the building had very low ceilings, it could accommodate only paintings which were wide but not too high. In the art world, such paintings became known as 'kitkats'. It is therefore conceivable that the humble KIT KAT derived its name from paintings which has to be snapped off to fit into low ceilinged rooms.

    For those of us on the Dark COntinent, KitKat has a factory in East London, South Africa!

  4. I shall think of that Whig connection the next time I find myself munching a KitKat thoughtfully while reading Macaulay.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  5. I've got to get me some of those KitKats. Given I spent my life as a student existing on baked potatoes and chocolate, the buttered baked potato one would have been some kind of superfood.

    I worked as a journalist in York, home of Rowntrees, now owned by Nestle, and makers of the KitKat. I did several KitKat related stories, usually under the headline 'Bar Wars' about them trying to beat their rivals with a new flavour. I remember strange KitKat related facts, like if you took every KitKat consumed in the world every hour and laid them side by side there would be enough to stretch around the London Underground system five times, or if you laid them on top of each other the resulting stack would would 117 times the size of the Eiffel Tower or something.

    Woodward and Bernstein eat your heart out.