Things to Buy in Japan: 15 Classic Japanese Souvenirs to Bring Back Home
Japan has a strong souvenir buying culture, ranging from modern hits like Japanese snacks and stationery, to masterful traditional crafts like ceramics, yukata, and tenugui. In this article, we’ll introduce you to 15 things to buy in Japan sure to please both yourself and those back home!
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Are you coming to Japan for vacation or for a longer stay? Congratulations! Everyone around you is probably jealous. It's okay, though. You can appease them by buying them cool things from Japan, which is a nice way of saying "Look, I went to this awesome country and you didn't, but I brought you back a souvenir to make you feel kind of like you went." Kind of.
1. Candy & snacks
Japanese snacks are so good that they've started to infiltrate supermarkets worldwide. You probably know about Pocky and Pretz and where to get them where you live (if you can). But going to Japan is an entirely different experience. You will forget about Pocky and Pretz - at least the regular chocolate flavors. Your eyes will glitter at the expanse of cakes and chocolates and cracker candies in SO MANY DIFFERENT FLAVORS that you don't even know where to begin.
You can begin with articles on Tsunagu tagged with "snacks." If you buy these the day before you leave Japan, they will stay fine en route to your final destination (make sure you put them in your carry-on luggage). You can also buy boxes of snacks--some on the more traditional side--at the airport. Just make sure they don't have liquid if you are planning to put them in your carry-on luggage.
Be sure to also take note of the ridiculous number of Kit-Kat flavors that Japan has. Don't believe that it can get any crazier than green tea?
You don't have to be a b-boy from California to enjoy kendama, though. They come in a lot of different designs and are a good souvenir for people who like knick-knacks or art.
3. Nice Quality Folding Fans (Sensu)
I say "nice quality" because I don't mean the cheap folding fans you can get at Asian supermarkets everywhere. I mean real folding fans made out of genuine Japanese fabrics and wood. These are common in Japan, although a bit pricier than what you might be used to seeing. Worth it, though!
*You can also buy handmade Japanese fans from Kyoto and Tokyo online here.
A Tenugui (手拭い) is a thin Japanese hand towel made of cotton.
It is typically about 35 by 90 centimeters in size, plain woven and is almost always dyed with some pattern.
It can be used for anything a towel could be used for - as a washcloth, dishcloth, but often as a headband, souvenir or decoration. Towels made from terry cloth have replaced many of its use in the household. However tenugui are still popular as souvenirs, decorations, and as a head covering in kendo, where it functions as a sweatband, as extra padding beneath the headgear (men), and to identify the participants by team color.
5. Japanese-themed keychains
Yes, keychains. You can be cheesy and get Mt. Fuji ones. Or ones that say "JAPAN" on them with a background of the flag. Or Skytree or Tokyo Tower ones.
Or you can buy keychains with plastic food samples. See item #15.
You can also get keychains with cute plushies that have microfiber butts to clean your cell phone! Or edamame that pop out when you squeeze it. Or ones that vibrate when you pull on a string. I still don't know the point of those.
6. Yukata sets
Yukata sets are very common in tourist areas like Asakusa and Akihabara. They are exactly what they sound like: a set that contains a yukata, an obi, yukata strings (himo) and geta (the shoes). Some come with the small bag as well. These are especially nice for kids, and the kids' sets are cheaper. Also they will look super cute.
7. ElectronicsMathieu Thouvenin/Flickr
People are not lying when they tell you that Japan is a mecca of electronics and that Akihabara is the place to go for them. Do you want a very nice rice cooker? Go to Akihabara. Do you want an entire wall full of headphones? Akihabara, or a Bic Camera or Yodobashi Camera electronics store. Not only is the selection hard to beat, but the prices are often very good as well. Or you can buy a $300 rice cooker.
8. Hair accessories/jewelrySam Howzit/Flickr
The good thing about shopping in Japan is that, depending on where you go, you can find entire stores dedicated to cute and cheap accessories. Even the hundred yen shops have worthy items. Of course you can always go for the nicer, more traditional accessories--which can probably be found in the same stores as the nice quality fans mentioned above. But popular areas like Takeshita-dori have MANY stores dedicated to giving the average high schooler with a monthly allowance her accessory fix, and you are welcome to shop there too.
9. Train goods
Japan is heaven for trainspotters. Trains, everywhere. So many trains. A train every few seconds. A train for everyone, young and old.
For the train lover in your life, you can get them anything their heart desires based on Japanese trains. A train plushie? This exists. A train towel? This exists, too. Cookies shaped like trains. Train keychains. Train tumblers. Train socks. Train onesies. Tote bags with trains. Train tissue boxes. Train t-shirts. Train planners. Train pens. Train pencil cases. Train wallets. GO WILD.
10. CeramicsBradBeattie/Wikimedia Commons
Japanese pottery and porcelain (陶磁器, Jp. tojiki; also 焼きもの, Jp. yakimono; 陶芸, Jp. tōgei), one of the country's oldest art forms, dates back to the Neolithic period. Kilns have produced earthenware, pottery, stoneware, glazed pottery, glazed stoneware, porcelain, and blue-and-white ware.
Japanese ceramic history records distinguished many potter names, and some were artist-potters, e.g., Honami Koetsu, Ogata Kenzan, and Aoki Mokubei. Japanese anagama kilns also have flourished through the ages, and their influence weighs with that of the potters. Another characteristically Japanese aspect of the art is the continuing popularity of unglazed high-fired stoneware even after porcelain became popular. Since the 4th century, Japanese pottery and porcelain was often influenced by the Chinese and Korean. Japan transformed and translated the Chinese and Korean prototypes into a uniquely Japanese creation, and the result was distinctly Japanese in character. In the 20th century, a ceramics industry (e.g., Noritake, Schimid Kreglinger (Kelco), and Toto Ltd.) grew up.
While buying ceramics may initially seem like a nightmare for your luggage, many shops have overseas mailing services, or will at least package whatever you buy and then you can send it off from the local post office. Alternatively, you could opt buy directly online at a site like BEOCS. Whatever you get, having Japanese ceramics is very classy and will be a cherished souvenir.
11. Cat goodsMichelle Ramos/Flickr
Are you buying a souvenir for someone who loves cats?
You are in the correct country.
Cat. Things. Are. Everywhere. Cat watches. Cat bags. Shoes with cats. Coats with cat patterns. Cat mugs. Cat porcelain. Cat socks. Cat earrings. Cat hats. Cat plates. Cat tissue holders. Cat wallets. Giant cat plushies. Small cat plushies. Cat keychains. Cat charms. Cat lingerie. Cat phone cases. Cat earphones. Cat tumblers. I could go on.
Omamori (御守 or お守り omamori) are Japanese amulets (charms, talismans) commonly sold at religious sites and dedicated to particular Shinto deities as well as Buddhist figures, and may serve to provide various forms of luck or protection.
Some omamori are very cute, while others are more traditional looking, and they often have the name of the place where you bought them. There are charms for luck, love, school, money, family - whatever you want.
13. ChopsticksLee LeFever/Flickr
Do not give away the breakable chopsticks you get at conbini. This is rude and you are not being funny, unless you then produce high quality chopsticks. Handmade chopsticks in Japan can run the gammut from a few dollars all the way up to several thousand dollars for a pair!
14. Stationeryfree range jace/Flickr
Another thing you'll want to bring back is Japanese stationery. As with many things on this list, you can opt for the more traditional variety or the more cutesy or modern, but there is an overwhelming variety to choose from. Pens, pencils, paper stationery, notebooks - get as much as you can because you'll be wishing you'd bought more soon enough.
15. Fake Plastic Food
Yes, you can buy plastic models of food to take home, whether as keychains or paperweights or full-on models. This is definitely a souvenir people might not expect, which is why you should give this to them and watch their faces go from questioning to even more questioning.
If you want to know more about souvenirs from Japan, also check these articles:
[Beauty and Cosmetics]
Thumbnail: Suchart Boonyavech / Shutterstock.com
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.