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What to Buy in Japan

What to Buy in Japan

By CarolUpdated Oct. 25, 2022

Shopping in Japan is a pleasure. There are so many souvenirs you can choose from that you won’t know where to start: from green tea and sake, for a taste of Japan back home; to calligraphy sets, elegant and useful; from ceramics and wooden crafts, to kimono, lucky charms, and toys… we bet you will find something to fall in love with.

There are souvenirs for every budget. The widest choice of shops is to be found in Tokyo and Kyoto. If you wish to buy souvenirs from workshops and craft centers, head to the smaller towns, especially in the countryside.

Check out our short article below and start making a list of the souvenirs you’ll bring back from Japan!

Highlights

  • Beverages like matcha and sake have unique flavors, hard to match atside the country (bad pun)
  • An elegant calligraphy set will enhance your home
  • The are many masterpieces among the centuries-old crafts of pottery and bamboo-weaving
  • Bring back a kimono, and wear a piece of Japan in the comfort of your home
  • Lucky charms are nice and small, and will add an exotic touch to your room 

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Green Tea

Everyone in Japan loves matcha (green tea). It is so important that the tea ceremony is an art by itself. Green tea is always a serious business in Japan, and you can find a huge variety, with many different qualities. You can buy the least expensive ones in any supermarket; but if you wish to taste the best, find a specialty tea shop.

Japanese people typically drink powdered green tea. They like to drink it while eating wagashi, a peculiar sweet made with mochi (a rice paste) and red bean paste; its texture and flavor are quite unique, and certainly not for everyone.

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Sake

Sake is liquor made with rice, and it can be found virtually everywhere. It is regarded as a fine liquor, with a strong, persistent taste, that you may either love or hate. It can be consumed hot or cold but, usually, highest-quality sake is drunk hot, to appreciate fully all the flavor.

Sake is usually served in a small cup called ochoko. Every region uses different kinds of rice and water, so you might want to try a lot of different ones before choosing the one you want to bring back. Sake in Kyoto is regarded as the best: it has many brewing areas, and the best sake producers are there. You can find Kyoto sake everywhere.

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Calligraphy Set

In Japan, calligraphy is an ancient art, and it requires a great deal of skill. You can easily buy a calligraphy set, complete with brush, ink, ink stone (for holding the ink), desk pan (similar to a pencil board), and several paper sheets, that should be handmade.

For something more casual, you can bring back some stationery: such as self-made pens, mechanical pencils, scissors, erasers, notebooks, or folders. These are nice, and inexpensive, and extremely well-made.

If you would like to learn the art of origami or practice your calligraphy, buy some washi, a special kind of paper made from wood pulp. It is also used to make everyday objects.

Or, if you wish to bring back a nice piece of art, buy some wood-block prints, especially identified with the Edo period (1603-1868), and truly beautiful. Subjects range from actors to complex urban landscapes.

Wood and Bamboo

If you like wood, you won’t be disappointed in Japan. There are dozens of different objects made from wood and bamboo.

For example, many tourists love the wooden combs made from boxwood, and evergreen. They are gentle on the hair, and are still used by the geisha. Geisha also like to use umbrellas made of bamboo and paper: extremely light and fashionable.

Bamboo weaving is a traditional Japanese craft. Bamboo is highly revered in Japan, with more than six hundred species. Woven baskets are used for ikebana, the art of arranging flowers, and are usually crafted so as to appear in a natural, asymmetrical style.

The craft developed down through the centuries, and nowadays it is possible to find many different baskets, of all shapes and sizes.

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Ceramics

Pottery is one of the country’s oldest arts, dating back to Neolithic times (10,000-4,500 BC), and Japanese ceramics are renowned all over the world. You will find many examples of bowls, dishes, cups, and sake bottles for sale. To get the best-quality items, be sure to head to a specialist store.

Every region has its own kind of pottery, shaped in a peculiar way and decorated with original patterns.

You will have a huge variety of pottery to choose from, and you won’t need to worry about breaking it, as many shops have overseas mailing services, or, if they don’t, they will package your purchase and send it off from a local post office.

Textiles

Everyone loves kimonos, and we bet that you have been dreaming of buying one for a long time.

There are kimonos for both women and men, though their prices and quality vary greatly. Women’s kimonos are more complex, with multiple layers and accessories, and can be quite expensive. You will, however, still be able to find inexpensive ones in many stores around the country.

Yukata are a particular kind of kimono, made with light fabric and perfect for hot summer days. You will find tons of them in central Kyoto and in the tourist areas of Tokyo. A typical set includes a yukata along with shoes and sash.

But maybe you want to buy something smaller but just as nice: we strongly recommend looking for a furoshiki, a piece of cloth traditionally used to wrap gifts and lunch boxes. There are many colors and patterns to choose from.

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Lucky Charms

Many Japanese people are superstitious, and it will be fun to explore the markets looking for the many different kinds of lucky charm.

One of the most common is called omamori, commonly sold at shrines and temples; traditional charms in a variety of patterns, styles, and colors. Each has a special purpose, so choose carefully.

If you wish to hang something outside your house, get a furin, a Japanese wild chime. Every time the wind blows it rings gently, and will remind you of your time in Japan.

For something more fun, that the kids will also like, we suggest looking for the classic lucky cats, the maneki-neko. They are made of plastic or ceramic, cats holding up their right paws. They can be found everywhere, and you will notice them at the entrance to many shops, restaurants, and houses. 

Toys

Japan has a great tradition of manga, anime and, of course, toys.

One of the most characteristic toys is the tin robot, a vintage piece produced mostly during the 50s. It is simple yet beautiful, and can perform simple tasks like walking forward, rotating the torso, or opening its chest to fire cannons. You and your kids will love it!

A kendama, on the other hand, is a more traditional toy. The ken (sword) has three cups and a spike that fits the hole in the ball attached to it. It is a variant of the classic cup-and-ball game: you have to catch the ball using the spike. As simple as that!

Another traditional toy, commonly seen during New Year celebrations, is the koma, the Japanese spinning top. You can find handmade ones, usually beautifully painted. Lastly, you might want to buy a koinobori, a carp-shaped windsock mostly used to celebrate Children’s Day.

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Incense and Camellia Oil

Visiting a Shinto shrine, you will be delighted by the strong smell of the many incense candles. If you like the smell, don’t hesitate to bring back as much Japanese incense as you can. Its smell will relax you and bring back pleasant memories.

You can find incense sticks and sachets, and most are really inexpensive. In Tokyo, we recommend to buy them at Kohgen. 

Incense is for your house, but you can treat yourself and buy something for your body. Camellia oil, a popular product among Japanese women, is a rich source of anti-aging antioxidants, and is perfect for moisturizing your skin and hair. You can apply it either by hand or using a wooden comb.

Shop for Souvenirs in Japan with Asia Highlights

With so much stuff to buy, you will need lots of additional luggage to bring everything back! Joking aside, we bet you can’t wait to pack tons of souvenirs, and here at Asia Highlights we want to make your dreams come true.

Our professional staff will take care of everything, and you will only have to think about what souvenirs you want to buy.

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