10 Most Original Souvenirs from Tokyo: Authentic, Useful, and Affordable

The best of Japan, never leaves Japan. Japan has a wealth of unique cultural items to choose from, both traditional and contemporary.

As a traveller, I treasure hunt for truly unique and priceless things during my travels for friends. My general rule is that priceless is what money can’t buy in the place my friend lives in.

Below are my favourite items to give, where to find them, and a shopping map.

1. Miso 味噌 Konbu 昆布 and Katsuobushi 鰹節

Dashi, Japanese soup stock, is the foundation of Japanese cuisine, and it begins with a type of kelp (konbu) and bonito flakes (katsuobushi). Konbu seaweed is the foundation of Japanese cuisine. While konbu is available in budget supermarkets and high-end specialty stores alike in-country, the options dwindle outside Japan. As dried goods, these lightweight items make great souvenirs and gifts for foodie friends back home (both Japanese and non-Japanese).

Good bonito flakes (katsuobushi) come from areas like Tosa (土佐 modern Kochi Prefecture), and the ones you can get in Japan come packed with nuanced and smoky flavours that the exported ones lack. The ones you get in supermarkets and department stores are usually sealed while the high-end stores often have them open-air in bins (make sure you request vacuum-sealed for travel).

Miso is also a travel-friendly item, as it does not need to be refrigerated until opened. You have your choice of white (shiro), yellow (shinshu) and red (aka) miso, which come in both pre-packaged boxes or open-air tubs purchased by weight. White miso comes from the south, and is typically sweeter. Red miso comes from the north, and has a very aggressive flavour. The typical stock miso is yellow miso from Shinshu 信州, which roughly corresponds to modern-day Nagano Prefecture, which has a hearty, robust flavour.

Find At:

  • Local supermarkets
  • Chain supermarkets (AEON, Life, Gourmet City, and Isetan)
  • Department store food halls
  • Specialty shops like Ninben at Nihonbashi

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2. O-cha, Genmaicha and other teas

The reason green tea tastes better in Japan is because it is fresh. The delicate flavours of Chinese and Japanese green teas (Matcha, genmaicha, Oolong, Jasmine, etc.) are meant to be enjoyed within the first few months after harvest, no matter what the packaging says.

While everyone associates Japan with matcha and the tea ceremony, I prefer to give o-cha, green tea and genmaicha, green tea with roasted barley. Genmaicha has matcha powder mixed in and is what many Japanese drink at home, and is more flexible in brewing arrangements (i.e. you can use your own teapot).

Matcha, in contrast, is a ceremonial drink demanding specific tools and techniques to fully realise a high-quality powder’s potential. Quality tea can cost an arm and a leg, especially because East Asians fully appreciate it. If you are set on getting some quality matcha, you are best visiting in the spring, when the leaves are harvested. It’s best to go to a traditional specialty shop, but otherwise head into a department store basement.

Find At:

  • Local supermarkets
  • Chain supermarkets (AEON, Life, and Isetan)
  • Department store food halls (i.e. Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Isetan)
  • Specialty shops like Ninben at Nihonbashi

3. Okashi, mochi & other Japanese sweets お菓子

Another one of my favourite gifts is to bring Japanese desserts okashi お菓子, and especially seasonal products.

Japanese desserts are an art form, whether traditional Japanese or Western cakes and pastries. They have also perfected the art of packaging for travel, down to perfect temperature control.

My personal favourites to bring are fuu, a Japanese sweet hailing from Kyoto that is more delicate than its mochi cousin. Crafted traditional Japanese sweets are also a winner because of their stunning visual. However, don’t be fooled by just the looks – oftentimes the most domestically prized products are the most unassuming, such as youkan from the shop Toraya.

If you prefer Western desserts, Tokyo has just as many options as Paris. Take your pick from the department store cake shops, which won’t let you down. They are often lighter in texture and flavour than their European counterparts.

*A note of caution: These items should be consumed within a few days of arriving home. The ‘best before’ date is clearly stated, and staff will ask (usually in Japanese) if you are okay with a specific date.

Find At:

  • Department store food halls (i.e. Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Isetan)
  • Neighbourhood sweet shops (the smaller and older, usually the better)
  • Established and famous old sweet shops
  • Airport Duty-Free (Especially the Royce Chocolates)

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4. Regional food & seasonings

As a food-lover, cooking ingredients is my favourite thing to bring to my food-loving friends abroad.

I take advantage of Japan’s domestic appreciation of regional products and bring back the best in the country – at mindbogglingly reasonable prices because they are ‘just’ food products rather than souvenirs or packaged omiyage. Food in Japan is usually labelled with their place of origin; in other words, soba and udon from specific areas are better than others. This is your opportunity to delve deeper into local traditions and share them through stories and meals with your friends back home.

My personal favourites are:

  • Soba 蕎麦/そば: Shinshu (Azumino) 信州、安曇野
  • Udon うどん:  Sanuki (香川県/讃岐) – and get the udon soy sauce too udon tsuyu うどんつゆ.  The other best contender is Osaka udon, which is generally softer and is usually served in soup.
  • Okonomiyaki お好み焼き(you can get the batter mix & sauce): Hiroshima & Osaka
  • Shrimp Crackers: Hiroshima (広島)
  • Wakashi お菓子: Japanese sweets, Kyoto (京都)
  • Rice: Various places, such as Akita (秋田県) and Niigata (新潟県)
  • Bonito flakes: Kochi/Tosa (高知県/土佐)
  • Yuzu: Kochi Prefecture (高知県/土佐)
  • Curry Sauces: Hokkaido (北海道)
  • Cream and milk products: Hokkaido (北海道)

Find At:

  • Department store food halls (i.e. Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Isetan)
  • Antenna Shops in Tokyo (see map at the bottom of the page)

5. Eating Utensils:

A good pair of chopsticks makes a light-weight and unique gift. Since chopsticks are the eating utensil in Japan, it’s no surprise they have a host of designs to suit every taste. Personally, my favourites are wooden styles, and if you want to get a nice pair, the department stores and old shops specify exactly which type of wood is used. Otherwise, head to the supermarket, home stores, and 100-yen stores. If you have friends that are fans of specific brands, bands, or icons, head to those fan store; they will usually have chopstick and bentos on sale.

Other great options are:

  • chopsticks
  • chopstick holders
  • Bento Boxes
  • Miso bowls (wooden)
  • Teapots
  • Teacups
  • Rice ball shaper

Find At:

  • Store with your favourite collectibles (i.e. Pokemon Centre, Donguri Kyowakoku (Studio Ghibli Store), etc.)
  • Local supermarkets
  • Chain supermarkets (AEON, Life, and Isetan)
  • Department store lifestyle sections (usually upper floors)
  • Old specialty shops like Ninben at Nihonbashi

6. Charms & Keychains

If you are heading to a shrine like Meiji Jingu, why not pray for a friend and buy them a lucky charm? Charms typically cost (usually 300-500 JPY)

Japanese will hang charms and keychains on bags, cellphones, rear-view mirrors in cars, and in houses. You have your option of traditional, to small anime characters and fake food! It’s a lightweight, cultural, and thoughtful gift.

Find At:

  • Local Temples (almost all temples with an office will have it)
  • Senso-ji
  • Tomioka Hachimangu
  • Fukagawa Fudo-Do
  • Stores & Stalls close to main attractions

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7. Figures & Models: traditional figures, and fake food

If you are an anime fan, you will already have your earmarked collectible stores marked out. However, even if you are not, keep an eye out for small figurines or cute fake food display items. It’s likely at least one will take your heart away. If one reminds you of a friend, make that your souvenir! It’s a much more personal gift than the usual Eiffel Tower!

Find At:

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8. Anime collectibles and action items

If you’re looking for specific Gundam models, your best bet is Akihabara, where you’ll find the multi-story anime-everything Mandarake, Radio Kaikan, and Liberty Store #13. Ikebukuro comes as a good second option as it has the largest Pokemon Centre in Tokyo, the official Studio Ghibli store, an arcade section, and some specialty shops.

Find At:

    • Akihabara
    • Ikebukuro
    • Studio Ghibli Store at Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City and other locations
    • Pokemon Centre in Tokyo station and Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City

9. Stationary and Lifestyle Items

Japanese home items and stationery exemplify off design and functionality. They make pretty and practical gifts.Whether you like minimalist and modern, cute, or neon-coloured, anime-themed, there are items for you.

Perhaps it’s a nice Uniball ink pen, a letter pad, a small memo book (because they have them in every practical size you’d want), or agenda, it’s a great keepsake to remind you of your trip. Head to a Muji or Loft store in Shibuya or Yurakucho for lifestyle options. Ideas are:

  • Pens (Gel, Ink, etc.)
  • Paper (letter)
  • Origami Paper
  • Notebooks (espeically thin, travel-sized ones)
  • Pencil Cases
  • Pen & Pencil Stands
  • Compartment containers in various sizes (usually stackable, modular, and perfectly fitted for paper, small items, etc.)
  • Collapsable containers

Find At:

  • Muji
  • LoFT
  • Daiso
  • Department Store
  • Your Favourite Anime / Collectible Store

10. Knives and cookware

In general, knives are a great start because of the incredible craftsmanship from Japanese folding techniques to create tempered steel. The most practical knife to get is the santoku, the Japanese smaller equivalent to a chef’s knife, which is excellent for cutting vegetables and meat for stir-frying.

If you are particular about cooking processes and want to recreate your favourite dishes, then you can get specialised cooking equipment for specific dishes. For example, you can get a noodle strainer that you see in the ramen shops, the small round pan for rice bowl toppings, a square pan for tamagoyaki, and a grill for takoyaki.

Find At:

 

 

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