As in many other Asian countries, main carbohydrate intake daily for Japanese people is from rice. Like potato is the foundation food material of many western cuisines, rice is the core of Asian cuisines.
You will find all kinds of rice based snacks in Japan, commonly seen as rice crackers. Onigiri sometimes can be snacks as well. We will save that topic for next time. Beika is the Japanese word for dry Japanese confectionery made out of rice. Senbei, okaki, arare, and kaki no tane, they are all different types of rice crackers in Japan, under the beika category.
Senbei (煎餅) or Osenbei (お煎餅) were originally brought from China during Heian Period (789-1185). The original senbei were made with flour (technically “flour crackers”). However, Japanese loved rice so much that they started making the crackers with rice. Japanese senbei are usually cooked by being baked or grilled, traditionally over charcoal. While being prepared they may be brushed with a flavoring sauce, often one made of soy sauce and mirin (a Japanese condiment made of mainly alcohol and sugar contents). They may then be wrapped with a layer of nori. Senbei now in Japan come in various shapes, sizes, and flavors, usually savory but sometimes sweet. Senbei are often eaten with green tea as a casual snack and offered to visiting house guests as a courtesy refreshment.
Okaki (おかき) are rice crackers made of sweet glutinous rice. Smaller size of okaki is called okaki Arare. Since Heinan period, people started using left-over mochi (sticky rice cake) to make okaki. Those mochi were usually New Year’s decorations (Kagami Mochi) and left on the table for several days so not good to eat directly. People scraped the mochi to smaller pieces with hands, dried them, and deep fried them into okaki to enjoy.
We mentioned arare a little bit above and yes, they are usually smaller bite size rice crackers. They are made from glutinous rice and flavored with soy sauce. When arare were introduced in Hawaii in 1900s, they were called kakimochi or mochi crunch. There are many different sizes, colors, and shapes of arare. Some are sweet, and others savory. One, called norimaki arare is wrapped with dried nori seaweed. Another, kaki no tane (柿の種) is named from its shape resembling a persimmon seed. Kaki no tane are often sold with peanuts, a combination called kakipī (かきピー). Along with wasabi peas and dried fish, these are popular snack to accompany Japanese beer.
Every year March 3rd, it is Japanese Doll Festival which functions as Girls' Day to celebrate another year with the girl in the family. During that time, seasonal arare can be found in colorful pink, yellow, while, brown, light green, etc to enlighten the festival atmosphere. Try our favorite at this amazon link