20 Best Souvenirs to Buy in Kyoto! From Japanese Sweets to Everyday Sundries That Mix Tradition and Modernity!
From historic shrines, temples, and townhouses to longstanding ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants) and teahouses, Kyoto is simply inundated with Japanese cultural traditions. In a time when the city served as the country’s capital, Kyoto attracted the latest technological innovations from all across the country, and to this day remains a place where you can find many skilled craftsmen of all callings. In recent years, these age-old traditions have merged with modern sensibilities to create all new kinds of amazing products that are both fun to buy and to receive. In this article, we will introduce some of the best Kyoto souvenirs that exemplify those qualities. Make the best out of your next Kyoto vacation by checking this guide for souvenir shops close to popular tourist spots or for department stores with the best inventory!
Apr 23 2020 (Sep 09 2020)
1. Kimono (Kyomatoigashi cacoto)
The famous kimono cakes are decorated in bright, fun patterns modeled after traditional kimono cloth designs, making them as beautiful as they are delicious. The inspiration for the kimono cakes came from one of the bakers at the confectionery store after she married into a rental clothing shop founded back to 1897, remarking how confectionery designs resembled kimono clothing. And that’s how the kimono cakes were born, which are made from sponge cake sandwiched with cream, jam, nuts, fruit etc. and coated with white chocolate, resulting in lavish flavors befitting the gorgeous presentation. Besides pristinely packed kimono souvenir boxes, the store also sells smaller gift bags with three cakes insides.
2. Cacao 365 (Cacao 365)
The quaint traditional elements which embody Japanese culture can be found in abundance throughout the Kyoto streets of Gion, which is also where this next shop is located. Cacao 365 gets its names from its trademark chocolate decorated with a different design for every day of the year. Kyoto culture is all about taking inspiration from the changing of the seasons when it comes to its cuisine or designs, and Cacao 365 is no exception. Their motto, “Everyday is a good day,” conveys their belief in living each day to the fullest, with these elegant chocolates being a reflection of Kyoto's graceful charm. Be sure to also check out their other popular delicacies like the baked sweets and their éclairs.
3. Stick Chocolat (Chocolat Bel Amer Kyoto-Bettei)
The Stick Chocolat is served on a stick like a popsicle. The embroidery-like decorations on the surface differ depending on the flavor and are so charming that it almost feels like a waste to eat them. In addition to the flowery prints emblazoned on a variety of flavors like caramel salé and custard vanilla, they also offer flavors unique to Japan like brown sugar kinako (soybean flour), matcha green tea, and hojicha roasted green tea. The store also offers plenty of other chocolates, cakes, and baked sweets, so you’ll definitely find something you like here.
4. Natural Popcorn, Ripe Keihoku Sansho Pepper-Flavored (Kyoto Kameyoshi)
Kyoto Kameyoshi produces and sells popcorn made from corn grown in the natural soil of northern Kyoto, which is then flavored with local Kyoto seasonings like sansho pepper, honey, or kinako soybean flour. The ripe Keihoku sansho flavor is especially recommended. Sansho is commonly used in Japanese cuisine as an aromatic, piquant spice, which here is complemented beautifully by the sweet flavor of caramel, resulting in refined, flavorful popcorn.
5. IRODORI Kohakuto (Tsuruya Yoshinobu)
This delicacy is a blend of the old and new made at an old-fashioned sweets shop. Kohakuto is a kind of traditional candy made with sugar and kanten (Japanese gelatin) that has long been enjoyed in Japan. These pastel-colored kohakuto come in flavors such as jasmine, chamomile, and lavender, and offer that characteristic crunch that so many people love.
6. drawing, animal (UCHU wagashi)
Rakugan is a type of traditional Japanese confectionery known as higashi (dry sweets), which is made by mixing regular or refined sugar into rice flour or other floury substance, then adding color to it and pressing it all into a mold and allowing it to dry. The rakugan at UCHU wagashi are made using high-end wasanbon refined sugar, resulting in a mellow, melt-in-your-mouth product that’s presented in a colorful and visually pleasant package. There are many kinds of rakugan at UCHU wagashi, like “drawing,” which can be rearranged in whatever shape you want, or “animal,” which are animal-shaped rakugan that come in cocoa and vanilla flavors. For playful sweets that are a treat for the eyes and the mouth, look no further than UCHU wagashi.
7. Okoicha Langue de Chat Cha no Ka (Kyoto Kitayama MALEBRANCHE)
Kyoto Kitayama MALEBRANCHE is a Western confectionery store in Kyoto that is exceptionally popular for their sweets that combine the best elements of Japanese and Western sweets. Tea leaves grown exclusively for this dessert are ground into fine powder inside a mortar to produce the strong fragrance and vivid color the Cha no Ka is known for. Additionally, the faintly bitter flavor of the koicha Langue de Chat biscuit perfectly balances out the sweet white chocolate. Each Cha no Ka is individually wrapped, making it perfect for distributing them as small gifts.
8. Uji Green Tea Baumkuchen (Tsujirihei Main Branch)
This striking Baumkuchen cake looks just like an actual bamboo stalk. Made using Kyoto Uji matcha, one of the three greatest teas of Japan, and fresh cream, the resulting dessert comes out incredibly fluffy with a rich green tea flavor to it. Tsujirihei has a long history as a wholesale tea seller, so their sweets both look amazing and taste wholly authentic. How about taking home a souvenir that embodies a piece of Kyoto with its abundance of scenic bamboo forests?
9. Kitsune Senbei (Sohonke Inariya)
The kitsune senbei (fox rice cracker) is a specialty souvenir that can be found at the entrance to the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine famous for its rows of crimson torii gates. The fox has long been known in Japan as a deity of bountiful harvests, and its likeness serves as the motif for each hand-made rice cracker. The mild sweet flavor of the white miso forms an exquisite combination with the fragrant sesame. The cracker itself is also fairly thick, and can serve as a hearty snack that's hard to stop eating once you bite into it.
1. Shichimi Togarashi (Shichimiya Honpo)
Shichimi togarashi is a spice mixture that pairs seamlessly with Japanese cuisine whether it's udon noodles or gyudon (rice bowl dish with beef). Its made up of ground red peppers, sansho pepper, black sesame, dried nori seaweeds, and other ingredients. The exact shichimi recipe at Shichimiya Honpo, a spice shop founded back in 1655 along the road leading to the Kiyomizudera temple, has been passed down from generation to generation and is now beloved for its abundant flavor that doesn’t overpower the rest of the dish but instead draws out the best out of all other ingredients. It's also packaged in a gourd as a unique touch that’s ideal for souvenirs.
2. Chiisana Daiyasu (Daiyasu)
Kyo-Tsukemono, or Kyoto pickled vegetables are one of the specialties of the region. Daiyasu is known as one of the prestigious brands of pickled vegetables, made using seasonal vegetables shipped in from contracted farms across the country. Daiyasu products are 100% domestic and organic and contain absolutely no artificial additives. The Chiisana Daiyasu pickles are packaged in small individual containers of preserved cucumbers, yams, daikon radish, burdock etc., so you can choose your favorites and enjoy fresh Kyo-Tsukemono for days. Chiisana Daiyasu can be purchased individually, making them easy to carry around, so why not have them as a light snack at your hotel?
3. Nyumen (Kikunoi)
Kikunoi Main Branch is a ryotei (traditional high-end Japanese restaurant) that has been serving Kyoto dishes and kaiseki (traditional Japanese course cuisine) since 1912. The esteemed location has been awarded 3 Michelin stars for 11 years running, and is known as one of the premier traditional Japanese restaurants in Kyoto. And now, you can enjoy one Kikunoi specialty in the comfort of your own home: their nyumen. Nyumen is a dish of string-like fine noodles cooked in dashi broth. Domestically produced wheat flour is meticulously kneaded until the nyumen acquires the texture of raw noodles, which despite their mild flavor deliver a nice savory punch. The Kikunoi nyumen is available in a number of variations such as yuba (tofu skin), sea bream, and matsutake mushrooms, and while the dishes are simple to prepare—just pour boiling water over them—their fragrant aromas are all first-class.
4. Zeitaku Chazuke (Kyoto Kitcho)
Situated in Arashiyama, one of Kyoto's most attractive scenic locations, the Kyoto Kitcho Arashiyama Main Branch is yet another prestigious restaurant that has been awarded 3 Michelin stars for 11 years running, and one of their specialties is chazuke. Chazuke, or cooked rice with tea or dashi poured over it, is a staple of the Japanese diet. The Kitcho chazuke, befitting a traditional ryotei restaurant, is made with delicious dashi broth and comes in three varieties: salmon with just enough salt to complement white rice, chirimen sansho, a Kyoto staple of dried baby sardines with Japanese pepper, and tender shellfish meat. No matter which one you go with, you are guaranteed an extravagant feast. There is also a six-variety set that additionally includes eel, king salmon, and tokishirazu chum salmon.
5. Gyokuro, Sencha, Hojicha Teabag Set (Ippodo Tea)
Ippodo is a tea specialty store whose main branch is located at Teramachi Nijo. Boasting over 300 years of history, the store’s fragrant tea leaves have won it fans all over the country. For souvenirs, we recommend the convenient and high-end teabag set of gyokuro (a type of green tea grown in the shade), sencha (processed whole green tea leaves), and hojicha (roasted green tea). Whether you’re at home or traveling, these teabags allow you to enjoy genuine Japanese tea wherever you are.
6. Kyoto Matcha Beer (Kizakura)
Fushimi is an area of Kyoto known for brewing Japanese alcohol, and Kizakura is the rice wine maker that produced the very first Fushimi beer. Just like the local sake, Kizakura beers are made with the famous Fukusui spring water and come in many varieties, but the one we especially recommend is the matcha beer characterized by its mellow green foam and faintly bitter but rich matcha fragrance that dissipates into a pleasant aftertaste. The unique beer embodies two essential Japanese flavors of matcha and sake, making it the perfect souvenir that will instantly transport you back to Japan with one gulp.
Daily Necessities, Cosmetics, Sundries
1. Incense (Lisn Kyoto)
Among the beautiful, wavy walls of Lisn Kyoto, above the chic tiled floor, you’ll find an assortment of over 150 colorful, eye-catching incenses. You can buy them by the stick and create the perfect combination of aromas, but the packs of 10 are a real deal thanks to their stylish packages and the low price of 385 yen, making them the perfect souvenirs for your friends, family, or coworkers.
2. Tricolored Yokan Soap (Kyoto Shabonya)
The carefully selected plant oils used in the soap at Kyoto Shabonya are soothing and non-irritating, making them safe to use for people prone to dry or itchy skin. Additionally, most of the fragrances used in the soap are organic, and the natural, gentle aromas have a calming effect. There are many varieties to choose from, from the refreshing soap made with yuzu fruit from Mizuo, the citrus capital of Kyoto, to the soap made with black beans from Kyotanba, or the delicious-looking soap that could easily be mistaken for the popular Japanese dessert yokan. Whatever soap you need, you’ll definitely find it at Kyoto Shabonya.
3. Men’s Cosmetics (Yojiya)
For Japanese people, one of the best Kyoto souvenirs out there is the Yojiya aburatorigami, a traditional facial oil-blotting paper. But the line of male cosmetics by the same company is also incredibly popular, with one product in particular being especially interesting: the face lotion. Packaged in a spray bottle, the easy-to-use lotion has found many fans because of how refreshed it leaves you after a face wash without making your skin sticky. It's also unscented, colorless, and alcohol-free, making it perfect for those with sensitive skin. The same line of products also includes a facial wash foam and a milky lotion.
4. Gamaguchi Products (Ayanokoji)
Gamaguchi (toad mouth) is a traditional type of Japanese-style wallets, pouches, bags, or backpacks with a large, clasp opening that provides easy access to the contents inside. Ayanokoji is a gamaguchi specialty store where all the products are made individually by hand. From traditional Japanese patterns to modern, trendy designs, the intricately crafted Ayanokoji items are sure to add a little color to your everyday life. Visit the store yourself if you ever have the chance.
5. Gamaguchi Products (Pocchiri)
“Pocchiri” is a gamaguchi brand that started up in Kyoto in 2012. Their varied selection includes wallets, key cases, accessory pouches, and shoulder bags. Though centered in Kyoto, craftsmen from all around Japan are involved in the manufacturing of Pocchiri goods. In addition to checkerboard and polka dot patterns, their designs also include adorable motifs that anyone can enjoy like fruit, animals, or Halloween and Christmas themes. Once you see one Pocchiri product for yourself, you’ll feel like collecting them all!
We hope that you’ve enjoyed our introduction to the best souvenirs that Kyoto has to offer, from charming treats that are as incredible to look at as they are to eat, to sundries that fuse traditional craftsmanship with modern trends, or products that offer you a taste of some of the best restaurants in the city. Whether it’s a snack to be enjoyed in the comfort of your hotel room or a present for your family or that special someone, or even something you just want to keep for yourself, you will definitely find it in Kyoto. Look the article over and if you see anything you like, go for it the next time you’re in Kyoto so you don’t have to fret over what souvenirs to buy!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.