This photo shows the lid of a container of Japanese junk food whose name is a delightfully awful pun. Do you get it?
If not, here are some clues.
First, sugar is a major ingredient. It is represented in Japanese by the character 糖 tou, which is prominently featured on the label. This character never appears on its own (as far as I know). But it is part of many common compound words. For example:
砂糖 satou (literally, sand sugar) is ordinary table sugar.
乳糖 nyutou (milk sugar) is lactose.
果糖 katou (fruit sugar) is fructose.
黒糖 kokutou (black sugar) is an extra-dark brown sugar commonly associated with Okinawa.
花林糖 karintou (flower woods sugar) is a poetically named fried snack, more commonly written かりんとう and usually flavored with black or brown sugar. (It’s not the snack shown in the photo, however.)
If you eat too much sugar, you may end up with 糖尿病 tounyoubyou (sugar urine disease), or diabetes. So you might want to look for products that are labeled 低糖 teitou (reduced sugar).
I think that’s enough talk about sugar for now. So, let’s turn to another common junk food ingredient: potatoes.
The basic Japanese word for potato is 芋 imo, often written as いも or イモ. This word can stand on its own, but also appears in a variety of compounds. For example:
里芋 sato imo (village potato) is a taro.
サツマイモ satsuma imo is a sweet potato. It is named after a place – the Satsuma domain in southern Kyushu, where it was first commonly grown.
ジャガイモ jaga imo is a common white potato. It is said to be named after a place even further south – Java – apparently because it first arrived in Japan aboard Dutch ships that sailed via Indonesia.
長芋 nagaimo (long potato) is a Japanese root vegetable similar to jicama in terms of its pale, bland and crunchy flesh, although its shape is long rather than round and its juice is viscous.
However, there is also a Japanese word for potato that comes from English: ポテト poteto. At any casual dining establishment in Japan, you are likely to find ポテトフライ poteto-furai, or French fries, somewhere on the menu.
And now you can see that the snack in the photo does resemble French fries. And its punny name is … PoteTOU.
Get it now?
The full wording on the lid reads: “A marvelous meeting of sweet and salty flavors: PoteTOU. A potato sweet that tastes like black sugar karintou.”
I bought this product because I found the name irresistible. But I only ate a couple of pieces because I don’t want to get 糖尿病.