One thing that you quickly notice living in Japan is the true love the Japanese share for the seasons, and how they celebrate the changing of the seasons with relish. Summer brings fireworks and yukata. And at summer’s end, Autumn may not quite feel like autumn yet, the leaves may not have changed colors, but as soon as September rolls around the advertisements change to sweater-wearing girls against backdrops of gorgeous winter foliage.
This attention to seasonality goes back certainly at least as far as the Pillow Book of Sei Shonangon which mentioned the different colors to be worn and different hair ornaments favored in each season, broken down to the smallest possible segments, sometimes only a week or two at a time. Love of seasons, the emotions associated with them, and the celebration of them and their changing is a part of Japanese culture that has been around as long as perhaps the Japanese themselves.
In modern times, companies have wisely capitalized on this, branding certain products with special seasonal “Limited Edition” flavors, only available for a brief moment of the year. Sometimes for a few months, or sometimes only a few short weeks is it possible to find these treats. I still lament the loss of my beloved kiwi yogurt from 7-Eleven this summer, which is an important facet of the entire experience. There is an excitement at the coming season, but an inherent melancholy at the passing of time and the loss of the season past; with it go the flavors we have grown so attached to in such a short time.
Love of seasons is a part of
Japanese culture that has been around as long
as perhaps the Japanese themselves.
Pepsi is one of the non-Japanese companies that has taken this idea and run with it in Japan, regularly releasing seasonal summer flavors to great fanfare and internet attention. A brilliant marketing scheme, the flavors tend towards the truly bizarre. This is no Pepsi-with-a-hint-of-lemon, or cherry. There is really no cola taste here, only a slightly insane soda with the Pepsi logo proudly branded on it. Many of us have seen the pictures fly around the internet as soon as the season’s flavor has been released—the Shiso Pepsi, the Cucumber Pepsi, the White Pepsi. These go far beyond the Clear Pepsi of the 90’s. I even still have a bottle of this summer’s Baobab Pepsi sitting in my fridge, waiting to be enjoyed. (I will save you the google search—Baobab is a type of African tree. Yes, I have tree-flavored Pepsi.)
Pepsi generally has tended towards Summer flavors, but apparently this ploy has been successful enough to branch out into Winter flavors as well. This season brings us the new, limited edition Mont Blanc Pepsi, just in time for Holiday feelings to permeate the air.
For those not familiar, a Mont Blanc is a chestnut dessert hailing from France that has infiltrated Japanese cake shops everywhere. Usually a cake base is topped with cream and threads of chestnut puree swirled in the shape of a mountain, hence the name, which translates to “White Mountain.” Not all Mont Blancs are created equal, of course, and they can be found everywhere from the fanciest of “Keki” shops (try it at least once) to your local Lawson’s or 7-Eleven (do not bother, it will not be worth it). Every now and then you will even find variations on the theme flavored with Green Tea or even fruit flavors, but the traditional is of course, Chestnut.
The taste is chocolate primarily,
with dark notes of nuttiness.
So how does a Mont Blanc Pepsi stack up? The bottle is quite pretty, with a sepia tint fading into whiteness, printed with delicate snowflakes, and of course, a huge chestnut that looks indeed like a white mountain. The font is lovely, and proclaims “Mont Blanc” proudly, many points larger than the actual Pepsi logo itself.
But how does it taste? Well, I have to admit, I struggled with my own expectations on this one. The sepia tint reminded me of American “Cream Soda”, and I really was hoping for a creamy A&W; type flavor. At first sip, I was disappointed. In fact, I did not even drink more than a few sips before putting it aside. However, for the purposes of this article, I picked up a new bottle (surprisingly difficult in Gunma, I had no problems finding it in every 7-11 in Tokyo).
Second time is a charm, because this time I actually enjoyed the drink! The taste is chocolate primarily, with dark notes of nuttiness. There is not nearly as much “chestnut” taste as you may expect, but then again, for a bottle of artificial flavorings they did not do so badly. And there, underneath the chocolaty, nutty flavor, was that Cream Soda taste I had been missing all along. In fact, the scent is almost completely Cream Soda, and matches nicely with the overall flavor. It has a smooth finish, but leaves a bit of a strangely sour aftertaste reminding you that it is a Pepsi after all. It is quite sweet, but not any more so than a usual Pepsi. I find it rather amusing that this bottle of carbonated sugar water has given up the game and practically declared itself to be dessert. How ‘refreshing’ly honest!
Now that I have discovered that I actually like the taste, I am sure that I will get addicted to the stuff, only to have my heart broken yet again when the flavor is taken away to make way for whatever springtime insanity they have cooking up now. I suppose the pain will be worth it, and I will feel a pang of Japanese melancholy when the time comes. In the mean time though, look for a bottle at your nearest combini, and definitely try this new flavor if you have the chance! And for those of you outside Japan that are dying for a cake flavored Pepsi, feel free to email me and maybe we can work something out!