You are at the end of your trip to Japan and want to bring back something from your visit to make your friends and family jealous, or maybe simply to remember your trip by. It is time to find some nice Japanese souvenirs, but where to begin?
A brief history of Japanese Souvenirs
The tradition of buying souvenirs is common all around the world. You travel somewhere new and you want to bring something back with you. This could be either a memory of your travels or perhaps giving to a family member, friend, or co-worker to give them a sample of your experience on the road or abroad. Japan is no exception to the rule. In Japan, the souvenir, or お土産 (omiyage) industry is quite large. It is a common custom in Japan to bring back お土産 to your family, friends, and coworkers when you have been on a trip. Although this might also be common in many other countries for trips abroad, in Japan it is custom to do so for trips to other cities, even including business trips! If you are working in Japan, be prepared to receive お土産 regularly if your co-workers.
Pilgrimages to thank
The current belief is that this tradition goes back to religious pilgrimages, where a souvenir from your travels was meant to share blessings to those that stayed behind. Over time, this expanded to any form of travel which led to train stations all around Japan opening up shops for travellers to bring back something home. When we think about souvenirs, what usually comes to mind are fridge magnets, postcards, T-shirts, key chains, and other collectables. But in Japan, the vast majority of souvenirs are things you might eat. Nowadays if you visit any airport or larger train station you will likely find an お土産 shop, where you can buy local delicacies. These are usually found in ornate boxes decorated with beautiful artwork. Inside you will most often find the item individually wrapped, perfect to be able to bring to the office!
Our お土産 Recommendations
With this in mind, we wanted to help you with a few suggestions for good Japanese souvenirs to bring home from Tokyo.
とらや Toraya is a very beloved Japanese confectionery shop which was originally founded in Kyoto over 500 years ago, although it is currently based in Tokyo. They are known for their 羊羹 よかん yokan, a sweet made of あんこ (red bean paste) and agar jelly. They sell different variations of 羊羹, so we recommend either one of their variety boxes or perhaps one of their seasonal flavours. とらや has several locations spread around Tokyo but can also be bought online through their website.
中村藤吉 Nakamura Tokichi began as a Japanese tea shop but is now also famous for its matcha sweets. It is named after its founder and was originally started in 1819. They offer a huge variety of matcha sweets so it is difficult to recommend just one, however, looking at their popularity rankings, 生茶ゼリイ詰合せ, a jelly made of matcha and other tea flavours, seems to be a favourite. 中村藤吉 can be found in Ginza and also online.
Besides these 2 speciality shops, you can also find a huge variety of Japanese souvenirs if you visit a larger train station in some areas. You could always visit other shops such as ドン・キホーテ which almost always have a section with お土産, with the stores in more commercial areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya having a larger variety to choose from. For those on a tighter budget, or those simply wanting to focus on quantity, we would suggest visiting one of the many 百均ショップ hyakkinshoppu (100 yen shops) where you can buy small packages of Japanese snacks to bring home, or maybe some fun and interesting items and gadgets. Although the prices are low, you can still find some items of good quality here.
If you want to get started on trying some of the delicacies that Japan has to offer before you leave Japan, why not try out our Traditional Culture Module? We sometimes offer activities such as a traditional tea ceremony or learning to make Japanese snacks.