Japan is a wonderland. So much great food, outstanding landscapes, incredibly polite people and oh, the quality products! A getaway to Japan – even for the Japanese – is often intricately linked to shopping. That is no coincidence. Shopping is a national pastime and it is quite the experience as well. Underground stations in Tokyo, for instance, have their own food courts and gift shops. And they look all shiny. Like shopping malls, they might even have elevator bell boys, who will press the buttons for you!
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But it’s not all these shiny things and inviting gestures that will lure you in. You don’t have to respond to the constant soft calls of Irasshaimase (いらっしゃいませ), meaning welcome/come in. But you will want to stock up on Japanese souvenirs. Near and far they stand for high quality. I mean, even hitting up the 100 Yen Shops, such as Daiso, will make you want to buy socks, porcelain bowls and more. Japan doesn’t disappoint. So here are 50 items you might bring wanna back home with you. Which ones are your favourites?
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Japanese Souvenirs for Foodies
For the best Japanese tea, look no further than matcha. Freshly prepared from the special green tea powder and whisked with a bamboo whisk, you can’t go wrong. You can drink it hot or cold. Even though it might taste a little bitter at first, you could easily become addicted to it quickly. The Japanese swear on its great qualities.
Kit Kat deserve their very own category as Japanese souvenirs. Japan is positively crazy about them. By March 2017, there had been over 300 flavours created for the popular chocolate sticks. The most widespread ones being green tea and cheesecake. For more adventurous flavours, you have to travel through Japan. In the Nikko area, for instance, you can stock up on Kit Kat Shinshu Apple. Here’s a fun fact: the Japanese words “kito kato” translate “to surely win”, which might be one reason for Kit Kat’s success streak in Japan.
Bulgari or Royse chocolate
Japanese chocolate might not blow your choco-holic mind (it didn’t do it for me, at least), but you certainly need to give it a try. For starters, great brands are Bulgari or Royce’.
There is a certain spice brand that is all the rage when I visited Nagano. There was even a Kit Kat specially created for Shichimi. If you want to get your hands on this hot delicacy, there is a small store near Nagano temple. But I am sure, you can find it elsewhere in town as well.
Cherry Blossom Flavoured Snacks
If you visit during cherry blossom season and you want to bring that extra special limited edition Japanese souvenir home, this is your chance. The Japanese go crazy on the sakura during sakura season. Not only are food items coloured pink, they are also often decorated with actual cherry blossoms and flavoured with them as well.
Just a word of caution: they don’t taste particularly well. Especially if you have a cake with a blossom on top, it might taste of vinegar because that’s how the flowers are preserved. If you are lucky, order the sakura flavoured hot white chocolate from Starbucks. It sold out within a week during my stay and it was to die for!
I certainly didn’t expect to get hooked on Japanese popcorn. I usually don’t even like popcorn, but the cheese and caramel delicacy that is awaiting you on select supermarket shelves had me hooked rightaway. If you ever stumble upon it, please try it and see for yourself. Japanese cheese or caramel popcorn alone isn’t really that great, but in combination this weird chemically flavoured concoction is addictive. Certainly not healthy but oh so good!
Japanese Souvenirs for Your Kitchen
Tea Time Porcelain
There are plenty of tea shops out there and the proper tea needs to be sipped from a nice tea set. Appropriately, the Japanese are masters in the art of beautiful and/or cute tea sets. You can basically find them everywhere. There are local shops abound, you can find them in supermarkets and even 100 yen shops. My favourite place to shop was the Cat Street in Ueno, Tokyo, thanks to all the cute cat themed chinaware.
Ok, in general pottery should be on your list of Japanese souvenirs. It is just so good that I have to mention it again. Why not compliment your tea set with stacks of plates, cups and the like? You can choose between glazed and unglazed pottery/stoneware and the classic blue and white china. To help you with safe transport, you should ask if the shop offers overseas transportation.
Nobody wants to be the obvious tourist and whether you have mastered chopsticks yet, you will want to try them out at one point or another. Practice is key, so just get your own set of chopsticks and try them out as much as possible? If you are shopping for chopsticks for kids, note that there are different sizes according to the kids ages and finger lengths. You can even buy training chopsticks for the little ones.
Japanese kitchen knives are indisputably of high quality. If you are a professional chef, you can acquire the high end expensive knives. As a hobby cook, there are also more affordable ones out there that won’t break the bank and are a great addition to your kitchen. Stop by Tokyo’s Kappabashi-dori street.
Once you have mastered the art of making sushi in a local Japanese cooking class, you probably want to show off your new skills at home. Why not get a bamboo mat and seaweed sheets while you are still in Japan? Trust me, it is much harder and more expensive to get your hands on a sushi making set abroad.
Japanese school kids get lunch boxes packed for them and they are the cutest thing. Boxes come with compartments with differently styled and prepared food. I especially love the mini sausages that look like an octopus! You can get colourful bento boxes in 100 yen shops as well.
After you have packed your beautiful bento box (or at least tried to), you need to literally wrap it up. For this, special pieces of cloth are used. They go by the name of Furoshiki and can be colourful, with patterns printed on them and decorated with cute designs. Alternatively, you can use the Furoshiki to wrap your gifts.
Japanese Souvenirs for Your Home
Double check your customs restrictions before you start splurging on the latest gear. Japan really does love electronics. For both old and new equipment, Akihabara is your nerd paradise. (I got an old gameboy color and Pokémon game there as well as all the no-longer-produced items I needed to get everything running properly.) Popular chains are Bic Camera and Yodobashi Electronics.
You could say they are bigger sushi mats, but tatami mats are for home decorating. As you know, Japanese interior edsign is minimalist and shoes are not allowed indoors. Tiled, naked or wooden floors make your feet get cold real quick, so tatami mats are a real blessing. You will rarely find carpets in Japanese traditional homes. If you choose a large tatami mat, opt for international shopping. No need to carry this bulky Japanese souvenir.
No matter if you want to use these Japanese souvenirs on a hot day or as decoration on your shelf at home, Japanese folding fans, called sensu, are exquisite. They come in soft pastel colours and various patterns. A lot of them feature flowers and cute animals. If you really wanted, you could therefore match them to your new dinnerware.
Super versatile and pretty, the tenugui (手拭い) are a great gift for home owners or connoisseurs of pretty accessories alike. You can use them in line with their main purpose, that of a washcloth. Or, you can spread the out as a placemat, as decoration on tables or on yourself. Thenugui are also used as headbands, such as sweatbands in kendo.
Edo Tsumami Kanzashi
Adding a whole new level of style and class are traditional Japanese hair accessories typically made from silk. They are known as Edo Tsumami Kanzashi and come in the shape of tiny flowers or birds. You have definitely seen them on geisha.
It’s not just notebooks, there are entire stores just waiting for you to take stationary home as your Japanese souvenir. These stock up on pens, pencils, clips, pencil cases, printed papers and slim plastic folders with the cutest prints and motifs. Quotes on them, when in English, are usually a little bit odd or poetic, but fun nonetheless. Naturally, you can opt for more traditional and plain, yet high quality stationary.
If you are travelling to Japan during April or May, you will have seen the carp streamers all over the place. Traditionally, they mark Children’s Day but nowadays are available throughout the year. The idea behind these streamers si to ensure a bright future, so if you want that, get one as your unique Japanese souvenir.
If your wind decoration needs a little bit of a bang, then go for wind chimes. Depending on the wind situation, they can produce gentle sounds or harsher clangs as they are made out of bamboo. You find them under the name furin.
Japanese Souvenirs for Your Style
From high end jewellery to 100 yen pieces, you can deck your head in glittery, cute or glamorous accessories. You don’t have to follow in the steps of the Decora trend of Harajuku, but why not add some hair clips to your wishlist of Japanese souvenirs?
Everyone wants to try on kimono. But the more informal, more hassle-free version, the yukata, is both minimalist and beautiful. On top of that, it’s much more affordable to purchase. You can get them in the typical tourist areas, such as Ueno, Asakusa or Akihabara. Get the sets containing a yukata, obi, ykata string, shoes and sometimes matching bags to complete the look. They are available for both men and women as well as kids.
If you haven’t received a matching purse with your yukata set or want another one, browse the wide selection of gamaguchi. These finely embroidered clasped purses and pouches are little art pieces and therefore make for great Japanese souvenirs. They have a classic and timeless feel to it and look especially pretty during sakura season as they are decorated with flower.
Colourful socks are another great Japanese souvenir but toe socks, are even better. They provide every one of your toes a full on sock experience and are usually super colourful and decorated with a variety of motives.
In line with skin whitening, the Japanese like to prevent harmful UV rays from hitting their skins as much as possible. Cue the UV protective parasols. Some might look like an umbrella, but are especially made for sunlight. They can also be excessively pretty, so you could basically use them for both bad and good weather.
Simialar to parasols, the wagasa are meant to be seen on bright days. (No rain, please!) However, they are not meant to be practical as such but are for show. You will see them in bright colours during special celebrations, such as weddings and festivals. They are made from oil paper and originated in China.
Japanese Souvenirs for Your Wellbeing and Beauty
You have probably already guessed it, the face masks are for health reasons. It is very impolite to openly blow your nose, cough, etc. However, the sanitary masks are not only supposed to keep the germs from getting out, but they also help prevent allergens and dust particles from getting in. So if you suffer from allergies, give the masks a try. You can buy them in pharmacies or any supermarket. If you want to stay cool, try face masks with prints on them.
If you are in beauty, masks will have a different meaning to you. Cleansing, hydrating, rejuvenating. Japanese beauty products are top ranking for good reasons. The latest trend is snail extract to help keep the skin fresh and white.
Beauty Products and Cosmetics
Don’t leave it at facial masks, Japanese cosmetic and beauty products are revered all over the world. A popular brand for this is Makanai Cosmetics. Stock up on hand lotions, facial creams, mousse, serums, oils and more to get the full treatment. For more affordable products, hit up any of the many drugstores.
Meant to keep your body warm during harsh winters, kairo, heat packs, can be placed on specific areas. They can last up to 12 hours and aren’t even expensive. Just make sure you don’t carry them in your carry on luggage.
They are essentially street marketing, flyers in the shape of tissues. But as many public toilets do not have toilet paper, these are definitely practical to collect. Plus, some ads are hilarious or just plain cute and actually make for nice Japanese gifts. My friends loved them. Get them all over Tokyo. Just walk around and reach out your hand when you see freebies being handed out.
Japanese Souvenirs for Collectors
I swear, I saw a local themed keychain everywhere I went. They mostly come in Pikachu, One Piece or Stitch styles. But you can get keychains in all shapes and forms. In souvenir shops, from vending machines, you name it. They are adorable and make for great gifts.
Did I mention Cat Street? If you are a neko-phile (neko means cat in Japanese), you don’t necessarily have to find that tiny street. Cat themed stuff is on shelves all over the country. Cat themed porcelain and dinnerware. Cats as plushies. Cats as good luck charms. Hello Kitty restaurants. Cat cafes. Cat stickers. The Japanese love cats. And there are a lot of stray cats around as well. (Notice their funny walk, as I like to call it.)
Like local themed keychains, medal coins are basically the coin version of country badges or bracelet additions. These medal coins can only be purchased in their respective locations and come in specific designs as true collectibles do. You can get them in special vending machines.
Remember when everyone wanted an eraser that had „for big mistakes“ written on it? Well, the Japanese are much more creative than that. And they go way above and beyond. Japanese erasers look like tiny real things, such as flowers, cars, potted plants or dishes.
It sounds a bit weird but once you see how realistic Japanese dishes are rendered, you will want to keep them forever. It is super handy to see the dish options you can order in front of you without them going bad or smelling weird (and you don’t need to be able to read the menu). If you cannot get enough of seeing your favourite cuisine or don’t feel like doing a plastic food making class, you just buy some. It’s also good for tricking your friends.
Japan loves their shinkansen. Let me be more correct, Japan ADORES their shinkansen. When I visited in 2015, the famous bullet train was celebrating their 50 year anniversary and you could see DVDs and books about them everywhere. On weekends, bridges over rails where full of spectators, just waiting for the different trains to whoosh by. They knew the timetables inside out, it seemed. So get your hands on anything with trains: clothes, chopsticks, stationary, magnets, plushies, etc. It’s all there.
Vending Machine Items
No need to search for that rumoured used panty vending machine in Tokyo. There are tons of other quirky ones out there. You can get beverages on every corner, exchange coins for keychains, ties, socks, plushies, cold ice cream or full meals.
Japanese Souvenirs for the Otaku
Manga and Anime
Walking into a Japanese bookstore, you might understandably be mistaken to think that all books are Japanese comics. Their covers are full of adorable illustrations. But alas, manga are their very own specific section just like anywhere else in the world. Still, there often are entire floors filled with manga alone. Scout out your specific genre and section to not accidentally look at porn. Unless that’s what you’re into. Generally, shonen is the genre aimed at male audiences, such as action and thriller. And shojo is for female readers, mostly surrounding romances or soap operas. There are so many other genres and subgenres, let’s not get into that here. Note: All manga are in Japanese. (Duh!)
Manga and Anime Figurines
I swear, if you ever loved anime or manga and you spot your favourite childhood character, compulsive shopping syndrome kicks in. I still have an array of cute figurines and glass markers that I absolutely NEEDED the moment I saw them. In fact, I was pacing around and in front of the shop so often, just to return and buy stuff anyway or add to stuff, that the shop assistants started grinning and waving at me the moment they spotted me. The best way to get figurines is in Akihabara, Nakano and Ikeburo.
I am not a cosplayer though I love dressup. But either way, I felt the urge to check out a cosplay shop and was surprised of the many Sailor Moon costumes that are still on display. I swear the popularity of this classic manga/anime will never die. (And rightly so!) And then I saw them: high quality wigs in various lengths, cuts and a multiple of rainbow colours. You can have the staff help you with the selection process and even try out some and get introduced in proper wig care. (I’ve got you covered on wig care when you travel though.)
Japanese Souvenirs for the Traditionalist
Similar to keychains but religious in nature, amulets, charms and talismans can be gotten from any temple or shrine. They usually come in gold and red and are offered to deities or figures of Buddha. Make sure you buy the right charm for your wish. It could be luck, money, protection, success, good grades, etc. Of course, you can also buy them for to take along on your journey. By the way, these charms are known as Omamori (御守 or お守).
A special lucky charm bringer that is made of simple paper strips. You will undoubtedly spot them in temples and shrines all over the country. They are folded in a zig zag style and meant to bring about good fortune. You can purchase them right at the temple, write on them and then hang them up.
If you aren’t freaked out by porcelain dolls and love the art behind them, look into the traditional handmade Japanese doll craft. Basically, dolls can be found in shrines and temples, such as on Girls Day. (I spotted them made out of colourful food in a supermarket.) Figures aren’t necessarily religious in nature, but can also resemble farm life or royal courts. They definitely are very unique Japanese souvenirs to treasure.
You could call them dolls as well but they somewhat different both in looks and purpose to the regular Japanese human-like dolls. Daruma are little round, red faces and originally don’t have pupils. They are for you to fil in. You set yourself a goal and then get to mark the first eye. Once you have completed it, you are allowed to paint on the other eye. They are great Japanese gifts for the ambitious and production seekers.
Kabuki and Noh Masks
Traditional theatre is big deal in Japan and a major part of any performance are costumes, masks and props. Especially prominent are the kabuki masks, which you can also buy as souvenirs. You don’t necessarily wear them. (They do look a bit scary.) They make for great decorative items.
When in Japan, you should not only join a Japanese cooking class, but also a local calligraphy lesson as the perfect Japanese souvenir. (Memories are the best keepsakes!) Calligraphy goes way back and is an ancient and well esteemed skill to have. You will not nail it, it takes a lot of practice and masterful training, but you can at least give it a try. Then, get yourself a calligraphy set and practice at home.
In Japan, signatures are given with a stamp. You get your very own personal one made and whenever your name is required in writing, you simply take out your inkan and hanko. The stamps look a little bit different to Western stamps. They aren’t bulky but small and cylindrical in shape, made out of wood and easily fit into your pocket.
Japanese Souvenirs – The Gift of a Gift
High quality and crafty gift wrapping is part and parcel of gift presentation in Japan. A sloppily wrapped present will do more harm than good. It’s all about the first impressions. So if you want to present your host, Japanese friends or colleagues with gifts, make sure you get it wrapped professionally instore. Many shops and retailers offer this service and it will make all the difference. Don’t even try generic Western packing.
Which of These Japanese Souvenirs Is a Must?
Ultimately, the question of what Japanese gift to take home is entirely up to you and the preference of the receiver. Japan produces so many wonderful and high quality items that are very much representative of the country and its vibrant culture and sold in certain places alone. At the same time, it produces universal items exported all over the world.