Finding and buying Omiyage (souvenirs in Japanese) is just one unmissable aspect of any trip to a new country. During your trip to Japan, you will notice there are a lot of shops where you can buy souvenirs. You may feel a little bit lost with all the choices on offer in those shops.
Here is a list to help you find the best traditional gifts or uniquely Japanese you can buy for your family, your friends, or for yourself. With those souvenirs, you will be sure to bring back a little part of Japan in your suitcase.
Daruma or Bodhidharma in Japan is considered a figurine crowned in mystic powers. It is said to allow people to realize wishes or to reach a goal which is dear to them. A symbol of success and perseverance, Japanese people regularly call on these small dolls to favor the realization of their wishes. When you push a daruma doll it never falls, springing back to upright positions. Just like that, the hope is that you will persevere and achieve your goal.
In order to make a wish or goal, you have to draw one of its pupils with a black pen, put the doll somewhere in your house, and then wait. If your wish comes true, you then have to draw the other pupil.
This doll exists in all kinds of shapes and in various colors. You can find this traditional gift in any souvenir shop, and Oriental Bazaar being one of the biggest souvenir shops is a good place to try looking.
Maneki-neko, which literally means “the cat which welcomes”, is a traditional statue representing a seated cat raising the right or left paw (or both) up to its ears. Considered a lucky charm, it is present almost everywhere in Japan and we celebrate it on September 29th. This little statue can be a perfect souvenir and you can find it easily in Tokyo, especially next to Gotoku-ji, a temple which celebrates this cat!
This cute statue is a very traditional souvenir to buy in Japan. The Tanuki is one of the yokai (spirits of the forest) in Japanese mythology, and it is featured in countless stories. It is inspired by a unique Japanese animal looking like a sort of raccoon, to which Japanese attribute magic powers. A master of disguises, it is known for being able to change its appearance.
Tanuki is often represented wearing a straw hat and a gourd of sake, with a plump stomach which they use as a drum, and large-sized private parts, which gave birth to drawings and funny legends! A symbol of luck, they have been present in Japanese artwork and tales since the Middle Ages and remain very popular. If you watch Japanese anime, you may have seen them in Takahata’s movie Pompoko. You can find this souvenir in many shops, like on the street leading to the Senso-Ji Temple.
The kimono is one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese traditional culture. A standard garment since the ancient times, the kimono is worn today to bring formality and elegance to many special occasions. It can make the perfect gift for one of your relatives, or for you. Kimono can be an expensive gift. However, you can find some great second-hand ones in shops like Chicago next to Harajuku.
Japanese ceramics can be a perfect gift and are easily found in Tokyo at a very affordable price. They can be found in many shapes and colours, with uniquely Japanese designs. Go and walk around Kappabashi-Dori, a little street between Ueno and Asakusa known to sell everything one would found in a kitchen, and you will for sure find what you need! If you cannot go there, there is always a small selection of Japanese ceramics in omiyage shops at popular tourist spots.
This object is an unmissable buy, especially if you are coming to Tokyo during summer, but you can also buy it as a decoration for when you return to your home country! You can find it everywhere in Tokyo, in all sorts of colors and shapes, with price tags from 1 dollar to very high priced fancy fans.
The fan was always an object of daily use for the Japanese to find relief from the heat. However, it also has uses in various traditional arts such as kabuki theater, the traditional Nihon Buyô dance, or the funny narrative rakugo art.
Whether you can deftly use these utensil or not, they sure will remind you of the trip to Japan, as Japan is one of the few country using chopsticks. Any souvenir shop or home good store holds chopsticks with cute designs, and the more touristy the area, the more traditionally Japanese designs you can find – ukyo-e art chopsticks, geisha chopsticks, Mount Fuji design chopsticks etc. From simple and cheap chopstick, to handmade chopsticks from high quality wood, there is a lot to choose from.
The Noh theater is the oldest and the most formal type of Japanese theater. It finds its origin in religious feasts celebrated in the countryside which were held to thank the divinities. In so doing, they made sure the gods help during the harvests.
These dances with suits and masks are known under the name “Kagura”. This genre of theater is very well known and appreciated. You can easily buy masks used during these representations, and they will make an authentic gift.
These are the traditional Japanese shoes that people usually wear with kimonos. Of course, if you feel that the complete look is a little bit too much, this shoes can be a great gift for using in summer like sandals. You can find a lot of different shapes and colors in some shops along the street leading to the Senso-ji Temple.
If you are in Japan you will be sure to bump into a lot of anime and manga items. Even if you are not a big anime fan, everyone has at least heard of Ghibli. Their animation movies are very famous in Japan and worldwide. There are a lot of shops dedicated to anime and manga, especially in Akihabara, but depending on the time, even convenience stores might have some special merchandise from a popular anime broadcast on TV at the tine. This merch makes a perfect present for your family or friends who like Japanese pop culture, or have at least some curiosity of it.
Of course, you can always buy some of the more perishable souvenirs, like drinks and packaged foods to bring back a taste of Japan. Gifts like this are good for people that don’t have a lot of space, or you are not sure whether they would like a gift like a mask or a fan.
When it comes to drinks, sake is THE Japanese alcohol you have to try when you are in Japan and bring back. There are a lot of different bottle sizes and a variety of flavors to please every taste. This product can be found in any supermarket and grocery shop. Same goes for Japanese fruit liqueurs like umeshu, and Japanese whiskey that has recently been winning awards internationally.
If you want to buy snacks, traditional Japanese sweets like mochi rice cakes, sweet read bean desserts etc are a good choice. For more modern treats, but with a Japanese sweets, you can buy KitKat bars that have a myriad of Japan=only flavours, or any sweet with matcha green tea in it. On the savoury snacks side, senbei rice crackers are both tasty and very unique.
If you do not have the time to do your shopping when you are visiting, don’t worry! The airport’s duty-free stores, especially in Narita and Haneda airports, are filled with all those products, so be sure to arrive early before your flight. With these presents, you will be sure to please your relatives by bringing a little part of Japan home for Christmas!
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: AC photo/