The best souvenirs to bring back home from Japan
Where to do your omiyage shopping
Travel souvenirs step into another dimension even more significative with the Japanese concept of お土産 omiyage. Therefore, the most difficult is to make a decision or, simply, not to abandon yourself on so many temptations while visiting the archipelago!
Whether it is to bring back gifts to your close friends, to keep an item or a house ornament for your home, or even to benefit from more attractive prices on site than by importing, souvenirs hunt should make you busy all along your stay, even just as a watermark. This article will allow you to see a little clearer in order to better target before your departure.
Our advice: plan to have a not so full luggage when going to Japan in order to fill it up with as much souvenirs as possible on your way back home, and be careful with the potential quantity limits and allowed amounts travelling with you in order to avoid seeing them being confiscated.
In Japan, VAT is at 8% then 10% from October 2019, but you can ask for a tax refund on many items, just by presenting your passeport, and this starting as low as spending 5,000¥ (~US$47.76) in the same store. Do not forget about it!
There are little or few specialities that you can exclusively find in the Japanese capital. However, Tokyo does not lie about its reputation of being a big shopping spot, and you won’t miss some dedicated location in order to make your purchases:
- traditional souvenirs: Nakamise-dori in Asakusa, or Nihonbashi
- for the youngsters: Takeshita-dori in Harajuku
- fashion: Shibuya, Cat Street
- otaku culture: Akihabara and Nakano district, or Mandarake stores
- luxury souvenirs: Ginza
It can sound a bit stereotyped, but we actually really can find gorgeous typical japanese souvenirs in shrines and temples. And naturally, in Kyoto lie the greatest options. Therefore, we can bring back お守り omamori (amulets), 絵馬 ema (wishes wood planks), incense or symbolic items with the effigy of the area (for example, a small torii ⛩️ in Fushimi Inari shrine). Pay attention to the high prices in the most touristic temples!
The ancient capital and its typical districts are also ideal to offer a kimono 👘 or a yukata. In the city center, possibilities are numerous: from dedicated high-end stores with high prices to the classic, more affordable Takashimaya, without forgetting Chicago store and its second-hand pieces. For beautiful fabrics, one address to always keep in mind: Nomura.
In all cases, for your shopping in Kyoto, the most simple is simply to walk around in the shopping streets of Kawaramachi, Teramachi and all around. It is possible to dedicate a whole day for them as there are numerous items to discover!
Other traditional items
Besides the items discussed earlier in the article, there are tons of Japanese specialties that it is possible to unearth while traveling around Japan. We obviously think right away about the Maneki-Neko and other Daruma, famous lucky charms.
More delicate and less space greedy for the luggage, 風呂敷 furoshiki (squared-fabric to carry various little objects), 手拭い tenugui (cotton tissues) and 扇子 sensu (fans) will particularly please women. We also can think about diverse dolls up to kokeshi.
足袋 Tabi, these socks with the big toe separated (just like feet mitten) will probably make your friends smile, but be careful not to become addicted to them! In the same type of souvenirs, we naturally think about the amusing sandals 下駄 geta or 草履 zôri.
Last but not least, be careful with all kinds of weapons (katanas, knives, swords…) of which transportation is ruled and counterfeits more and more frequent, specifically on very touristy places and cheap public markets.
In this category, the choice will obviously be enormous as Japanese people are the first consumers of their own regional specialties. But pay attention to the expiration date of the food, sometimes very close to the date of purchase, which will prevent you from returning home with them.
Each region has its flagship product, and it will only be necessary to walk around touristic streets or main train stations in order to easily find already made gift boxes, all wrapped up for transportation. Therefore, we do favor:
- wagashi: traditional confectionery, senbei, mochi, pastries and diverse cakes
- green tea: matcha and its numerous varieties
- sake 🍶 or shochu (liquor)
- bento 🍱 accessories
- the unavoidable Kitkat with its amusing flavors, depending on the season or in limited edition
To avoid perishable food, other choices are possible, starting with the chopsticks in numerous forms, patterns and various covers for all tastes.
Do not forget about the fake meals made out of plastic or wax, those you can see in the windows of many restaurants in Japan. They will make your friends laugh and hungry thanks to their real-looking aspect. We can find numerous versions of all sizes down to the individual food, in particular in dedicated districts: Sennichimae Doguyasuji street in Osaka Namba, or Kappabashi-dori street between Ueno and Asakusa in Tokyo.
In 2016, according to the Japanese government, foreign travelers spent 130 billion of Yens (~1.2 billions dollars) in confectionery and souvenir cakes.
With such a strong soft-power, it is impossible to avoid japanese cultural products. Chain stores such as Tsutaya and Book-off only by themselves offer an enormous choice of brand new and second-hand products, and their stores cover almost the whole archipelago. You will find there most of the books, CDs, DVDs or video games you are looking for. It is therefore possible to dig out full collections of manga at a very cheap price, or also the magnificent (but expensive) Blu-Ray editions of Studio Ghibli movies. In Osaka, Den-Den Town will definitely complete your otaku desires.
Simpler, stepping into a konbini will allow you to purchase your favorite monthly magazine or Jump while being in Japan. In the same way, going into pharmacies will be perfect to bring back local cosmetics or funny face masks 😷.
Other big stores like Donquihote or in the numerous 100 Yen shops franchises will allow you to purchase unusual and cheap gifts, such as:
- smartphone covers with Japanese and/or fantasy patterns
- Japanese flags or headbands (pay attention to the bad taste of this one: 神風 kamikaze)
- diverse cosplay and costumes
Regarding Hello Kitty, its collection of Gotochi keychains will let you remember all your travel since Kitty-chan wears costumes accordingly to the countless visited regions!
If you travel during New Year’s Eve period and you are not afraid of huge waiting lines, you can attempt to bring back a fukubukuro, these surprise-bags sold by big stores, containing far more expensive items than the price you pay for the surprise-bag itself!
Finally, purchasing high-tech devices in Japan, electronic or photographic, is not always as much beneficial as you can imagine. It mostly depends on the conversion rate, but for already a few years, prices tend to be equal. For many other reasons, it is often better to get your equipment before going to Japan in very competitive websites such as Amazon.