Yes this is indeed true. The Japanese name for it is 大仏様の鼻くそ (だいぶつさまのはなくそ daibutsusama no hanakuso). Sold at the gift shops in Nara and online, the company that makes it describes it as a puffed rice snack, coated on the outside with brown sugar, with size brown sugar kompeito candies rattling around inside. The puffs are made to look like The Great Buddha's nose snot, and the kompeito are supposed to bring you luck. Yum.
(photo by umbrajp)
While The Great Buddha's Nose Snot sounds rather dry, the Gorilla's Nose Snot is more, let's say, sticky. It's made primarily with kuromame amanatto, or black beans cooked in sugar.
As a matter of fact, there are different words for nose snot in Japanese depending on its state. I've often heard it said that the Inuits (Eskimos in non-PC parlance) have lots of words to describe snow, because they live with it all the time. In Japanese there are lots of words to describe stuff that is produced by your body, as I talked about previously. Which may mean that Japanese people are generally comfortable about their bodies, or at least find them humorous.
For nose (鼻 はな hana) snot, there are two main states:
- 鼻水 はなみず hanamizu - runny, watery snot (mizu is water)
- 鼻糞 はなくそ hanakuzo - solid snot (kuso is a rather rude way of saying poo or feces, so this is literally 'nose poo'.)
In manga and anime you will often see a character dozing off with a 鼻風船 (はなふうせん hanafuusen), literally 'nose balloon', protruding from his nose. This is rather viscous snot with air trapped inside; in manga it's a shorthand way of depicting that someone is sleeping, often while snoring too.
When I was growing up, I was often warned to stop putting my finger up my nose to scratch out my snot (you know, as kids do. You mean you didn't....?) If I kept doing this, I was told, my nostrils will grow huge, and I'll look like a piggy. I must have believed this because I did stop putting my fingers up there for exploration. Japanese girls are somewhat obsessed with having cute little noses - a 'piggy nose' (ブタ鼻 ぶたばな butabana) is considered to be very unattractive. In manga and anime shorthand, an ugly girl is often depicted with a butabana.
Back to the snot snacks. Both the Great Buddha Snot and the Gorilla's Nose Snot are derived from traditional Japanese sweets that are sadly no longer that popular amongst kids. The re-purposing of these traditional sweets with names that would make a kid giggle and try it, is a rather ingenious way of introducing them to their cultural food heritage, I think.