Sugar holds a special place in both public policy and scientific debate, each of which frequently attributes to it a unique, intrinsic power. A rather deterministic view of sugar is asserted in a range of scholarly fields, including findings of parallels between the brain's response to sugar and opiates, widespread suggestions of a hardwired human attraction to sweetness, and public health claims that increased access to affordable sugar inevitably leads to epidemic increases in rates of obesity around the globe. Japan poses an important counterpoint to such approaches because—despite high wealth levels and affordable access to sugary foods—it is a striking outlier to global obesity trends. Yet, surprisingly, while Japan's per capita consumption of sugar is much lower than other wealthy nations, the intensity of interest and cultural elaboration around sweet foods is arguably far greater than in the United States and Europe. Through an examination of attitudes, experiences, and patterns of use concerning sweet foods in Japan, this paper considers the conundrum of how and why Japanese tend to love sweet foods more but consume them less, furthering our understanding of the interplay of materiality and meaning in food and eating, while also addressing key questions regarding sugar and sweetness that have implications for issues of public health and nutrition.

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