My wife, in her infinite patience, has taught me several things about Japanese culture. Thanks to her, I’m familiar with the proper way to offer incense at a grave, and also how important it is to bring a little present to your neighbors on all sides when moving into a new apartment.
But perhaps the lesson with the biggest impact on my daily life was when she taught me just how good Gari Gari-kun popsicles are.
On the outside, Gari Gari-kun doesn’t seem too different from any run-of-the-mill popsicle, aside from being rectangular like an ice cream bar. Bite into one though, and you discover that the popsicle portion is really just a shell, with the inside filled with shaved ice. On a hot, muggy, Japanese summer day, Gari Gari-kun is one of the few things on this planet that’s worth passing up a cold beer for.
Since it went on sale in 1981, the product has become something of a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Aside from its instantly recognizable mascot with his gaping maw, Gari Gari-kun is also famous for its constantly running sales promotion. After finishing the popsicle, if you find a special mark on the stick, you can take it to any convenience store that sells Gari Gari-kun and get another for free.
Now, Gari Gari-kun is teaming up with another Japanese pop culture mainstay. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Tsuburaya Productions, creator of the rubber suit monster Ultraman franchise, a limited quantity of milky strawberry gelatin Gari Gari-kuns will go on sale.
The limited edition popsicles have a shell made with condensed milk and squishy strawberry gelatin inside. Gari Gari-kun products always come in a variety of wrappers, and the collaborative effort with Ultraman has three versions, one with Ultraman himself, another with Ultra Seven, and the last with Ultraman Zero. All of the wrappers also feature the Gari Gari-kun mascot doing the pose for Ultraman’s signature spacium or emerium beam attacks. And since this special occasion calls for a special prize, customers who find a winning stick will receive a Gari Gari-kun/Ultraman t-shirt.
The Ultraman Gari Gari-kuns go on sale May 14. Technically, the limited edition is part of the up-market Gari Gari-kun Rich line, although up-market is a relative term here. Items in the Rich series still go for a reasonable 126 yen (US$1.29), meaning fans can afford to take plenty of shots at winning that shirt.