By Elizabeth S
Tokyo's summers are sultry and exhausting, with temperatures rising to 35 degrees Celsius and over 80% humidity. A great way to beat the heat is ice cream. You might even have the urge to climb in a freezer on the hottest afternoon. In Noda City, just outside Tokyo proper, you can do just that at Glicopia Chiba, one of Glico's factory experiences open to the public.
Even if you don't immediately recognize the Glico brand name, you likely know the running man logo, a famous landmark lighted sign in Osaka's Dotonbori district. Glico, which has its headquarters in Osaka, produces sweets, ice cream, Pocky chocolate biscuit sticks, savory snacks such Pretz, and even curry roux. Glico also produces popular Seventeen Ice which is available from vending machines found all over Japan. The factory tour, which runs five times a day, is a 70-minute experience that explains the history and manufacture of Glico products. At Glicopia Chiba, it is all about ice cream.
To get visitors oriented, a video tells the story of Riichi Ezaki. Ezaki, a medicine salesman from Kyushu, created a glycogen-rich caramel that would fuel a runner for 300 meters. The video tells how Ezaki shortened the word glycogen to the catchy name Glico, illustrated the packages with the iconic running man, and launched his product in 1922.
After the presentation, a factory guide leads visitors on a tour where they can view the process of ice cream production, from mixing to aging to packaging. Each step of the way, visitors see the spotless factory equipment, the amazingly fast robotic arms, and the loving care with which employees handle the treats and packaging. On the way through, visitors can remotely control cameras trained on the equipment to observe the details. The clever use of audio, video, special effects, and even aromas help visitors understand the process of ice cream production. For those who would like a break from the heat, the guide ushers visitors through a freezer, and at the end of the tour, provides fresh ice cream treats in various flavors.
Visitors can wrap up their trip to Glicopia Chiba with a bit of shopping and play. The showroom has a huge assortment of ice cream treats, cookies, and logo goods. If on your travels in Japan you missed a regional or seasonal version of Pocky not widely available, you are likely to find it here. Next to the showroom, have a look at the retrospective of toys and trinkets that have been packed with Glico treats for nearly 100 years. Next to the showroom is a kitchen where visitors can make handmade ice cream.
The tour is conducted only in Japanese, but English-speaking visitors can pick up a translated information card at the desk. Reservations are required for the tour, which is free.
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You will see many of my stories on Japan Travel are about places and events outside of big city centers and tourist destinations. While I highly recommend the big name sights and experiences, I encourage visitors to see and feel the atmosphere off the beaten path, too.