The sunakku: Japan's nostalgic "snack bars"

Ah, the Japanese sunakku スナック

A fixture of Japanese nightlife for over half a century, these cozy little drinking establishments where many Japanese still go to socialize and enjoy the company of the (usually) older proprietress, the mama-san ママさん—whose job it is to provide a comfortable atmosphere for patrons to relax and occasionally join them in a round of karaoke—can be found in most entertainment districts of Japan.

Although there is some evidence that sunakku may be enjoying a bit of a revival among younger Japanese as an alternative scene to night clubs which have recently suffered from government crackdowns, they are mostly frequented by men of a certain age.

Machaa | © PIXTA

Whether it's in the backstreets of Ueno (such as the image above) or the neon-charged avenues of Kabukicho, if you happen to pass by a sunakku at night, the feature most likely to linger in your mind is the brightly-lit sign jutting out from the building's facade. Since many of these establishments have been operating for several decades, their names, logos, fonts, and designs often evoke an earlier time, and collectively, they create a nostalgic mood as they contribute their nocturnal charm to the urban landscape of Japan.

Kitan Club's LED Sunakku Sign Magnets

Now imagine if you could recreate some of that nostalgic mood far removed from the Japanese entertainment districts, and (for our overseas readers), even thousands of miles away in the comfort of your home upon your return from Japan?

While it would be difficult (not to mention illegal) to surreptitiously remove a sunakku sign and take it back to your home country as a souvenir, toy and apparel maker Kitan Club can offer you the next best thing:

LED sunakku sign magnets!

With permission from © Kitan Club Co., Ltd.

Only 300 JPY a piece, these ingenious LED magnets come in six nostalgic varieties and feature interlocking grooves and ridges allowing you to stack them up vertically, just like you see in the streets of Japan.

With permission from © Kitan Club Co., Ltd.

You can use them to hold notes and even illuminate them for more attention, and the softly glowing LED light can add just the right mood.

Ask your smart speaker to play some Mariya Takeuchi, serve up your favorite Japanese snack, pour some sake or fix yourself a whiskey highball, and you too can recreate a sunakku in miniature as you relive your memories of Japan or imagine visiting one day...

With permission from © Kitan Club Co., Ltd.

Sunakku magnet varieties

Let's get a closer look at the magnet varieties:

There's Sunakku Fuchico (left), which follows a typical pattern for sunakku, naming it after the proprietress. (A good example would be Young Snack Serina which we reviewed in our article on Tokyo Nighttime Passport earlier this year). It's also an in-house joke from Kitan Club, since Fuchico is the name of their best-selling and long-running mini-figure series, Fuchico on the Cup, which takes the form of a cute office lady posed in various interesting ways designed to sit on the edge of your drinking cup.

Bar Metcha Umai Cocktail (right) may not be a sunakku, but it probably occupies the same neighborhood as some of its sunakku sisters. If you're curious about the name, metcha umai is a casual way of saying "very tasty"...

With permission from © Kitan Club Co., Ltd.

Club Kitan (left) hints at a more exclusive establishment, perhaps members only, and Karaoke Sunakku Capuseru (right) follows another typical naming convention for sunakku and their music-focused variant, the karaoke sunakku. Replacing Western words like "capsule" with kanji characters, the name creates a phonetic equivalent while adding another layer of meaning. In this case, the four kanji 歌譜世流 (ka-pu-se-ru) stand for "song," "sheet music," "world" and "flow," which are good images to have for a karaoke sunakku. And if you're wondering why it's "capsule," these magnets will be sold from capsule toy dispensers!

With permission from © Kitan Club Co., Ltd.

Pub & Sunakku New Magnet (left) is another meta-reference which needs no explanation, while its "modern" font and pink background create a distinctive retro 80s look. Nomidokoro Nondakure (right), on the other hand, parodies traditional Japanese watering holes, or nomidokoro 飲処. This establishment uses the word nondakure "drunkard" 飲んだくれ in its name, but writes it without kanji (probably just like a drunkard who couldn't bother) and penned in wavering brush strokes.

With permission from © Kitan Club Co., Ltd.

Product Information

  • Name (JP): スナック看板マグネット (sunakku kanban magunetto)
  • Name (EN): Japanese Snack Bar Sign Magnet (our translation)
  • Size: Approx. 55 mm (2.17 in)
  • Price: 300 JPY (tax incl.), 6 varieties


These neat little light-up mementos of Japanese nightlife will go on sale from Saturday, December 7th, 2019, and will be available in capsule toy dispensers all over Japan. For a full list of stores, see Kitan Club's website here. You can also find more information on the product page here.

By - Ben K.