No trip to Japan is complete without bringing home a carry-on’s worth of authentic souvenirs for yourself and your friends back home. The Japanese people are masters of gift-giving, perfecting the culture of omiyage, a word that translates to “souvenir” but means a lot more than that. Omiyage is a gift you give after returning from a trip, but it’s not your typical magnet or keychain. Traditionally, omiyage is an individually wrapped box of sweets or snacks that symbolizes gratitude, joy, and good intentions. Bokksu is here to help you step your omiyage game up a few notches on your next trip to Japan.
Japanese Candy, Food, and Snacks
For the perfect omiyage, look to Japanese boutiques, grocery stores, street markets, and candy shops for “souvenir sweets” (miyagekashi) and famous regional specialties (meibutsu). Indeed, this country is known for its edible excitement, from the novel, experimental, and colorful to the buzzworthy limited edition items that tend to turn into crazes. For these reasons, authentic Japanese candy and sweets make some of the best souvenirs you can find. Look for individually wrapped, non-fragile, and shelf-stable options to bring back.
1. Japanese Kit Kat
Let’s just get this out of the way up front: Do not go to Japan without trying Japanese Kit Kat! The archipelago is crazy for the Nestlé mainstay, and there are now over 300 flavors on the official list, many of which are seasonal, regional, or limited-edition. Some of the more noteworthy flavors to look for include miso soup, cough drop, edamame, and sake, but if you want to fully understand what the craze is all about, grab classics like red bean (azuki), matcha, and soy sauce.
2. Special Pocky
You’ve no doubt already tried Glico’s world-famous chocolate-covered biscuit candies known as Pocky, since they’re popular all over the world. But in Japan, pocky goes far beyond your basic Publix flavors and varieties. From the Baton D’or luxury pocky that costs 10 times that of a normal box to adult pocky that’s meant to be enjoyed with wine, there is basically no telling what you’ll find Pocky-wise on your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Keep your eyes peeled for unique varieties like rainbow, whiskey, corn, sweet butter, and pizza.
3. Shiroi Koibito
Shiroi Koibito, a type of langue de chat cookie, is a very popular omiyage to give when visiting Hokkaido, and it’s well-known internationally. As one of the island’s most famous snacks, you’ll be able to find this buttery cookie easily. Langue de chat cookies in general are a great gift for friends back home. Look for Nagoya Kinsyachi in Nagoya and Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory langue de chat from Tokyo for authentic styles of this delicious cookie.
4. Matcha Tea
As far as traditional Japanese goodies go, matcha ranks at the top of the list. The finely ground green tea powder has been enjoyed in Asia for centuries for health benefits, religious ceremonies, and plain-old enjoyment. These days, matcha serves as a tea you can drink, which is ideal for souvenir-seekers looking for a more traditional omiyage option, as well as a flavor in all sorts of fun Japanese snacks. Matcha-flavored candy takes the shape of cookies, hard candies, and much more.
5. Tokyo Banana
This super-famous Japanese confection is known throughout the world as a high-end treat for visitors and those back home. A signature miyagekashi, the traditional Tokyo Banana is a banana-shaped cake filled with banana custard. But like any good Japanese sweet, there are plenty of fun versions to try, so keep your eyes peeled for specialties. For a double-dose of sweetness from Japan, look for Tokyo Banana Kit Kats.
When you go to Okinawa, you’ll want to try the traditional biscuit known as chinsuko. Commonly given as a souvenir, this yummy shortbread cookie comes in a ton of different varieties and is perfect for the gift-giver who prefers a more traditional, region-specific treat to bring home.
7. Kuidaore Taro Pudding
Heading to Osaka? Don’t miss your chance to bring home a tribute to one of the city’s most famous icons, Kuidaore Taro. The bespectacled clown puppet is officially the mascot of a popular Dōtonbori restaurant (kuidaore actually translates to “eat until you go bankrupt”), but it also serves as a larger icon of the city. To celebrate the clown, you can buy a delicious caramel crunch pudding packaged in an adorable clown-shaped package. Note that Kuidaore is pretty much exclusive to Osaka and you probably won’t find him elsewhere.
8. Shrimp Chips
Japan is famed for its unconventional flavors of chips and sticks—pickled plum, pizza, baked potato, and butter—but it takes things a step further with shrimp-flavored chips. These wheat-puffed snacks come in flavors like hot garlic shrimp and wasabi shrimp, but we recommend sticking to the original if you really want to give your friends back home an authentic taste of Japan. Don’t go for the obvious Calbee shrimp chips, but instead opt for more artisanal options, such as Hakata Mentai Shrimp Senbei, which is given as omiyage when visiting Fukuoka. In Japan, shrimp signifies longevity, so anything shrimp-flavored makes an excellent souvenir.
This Japanese confectionery is yet another very classic miyagekashi that’s basically guaranteed to delight those back home. The sweet is made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, and cinnamon and comes in both baked and unbaked varieties. This is one of the most famous regional items from Kyoto, so you have to at least try it for yourself!
10. Puku Puku Tai
This fun, fish-shaped Japanese snack (taiyaki) is exemplary of Japanese street food, since it offers a novel shape coupled with lots of unexpected flavors and varieties. These light, airy wafers are filled with a fluffy chocolate mousse and are a modern variation of a traditional Japanese confection known as monaka. But what makes them so special is the fact that they’re shaped like the tai fish! They come in lots of fun flavors like strawberry, mint, and more.
11. Rice Crackers
Rice crackers are a staple Japanese snack that come in tons of varieties, so they make a great option for those travelers who want to bring back simple or classic snacks to share. For a really special souvenir, choose a regional rice cracker inspired by the location where you traveled. For example, you could pick up some Kabukiage Shiquasa Salt, found only in Okinawa, or Scallion Miso Senbei from Nagoya. Seasonal options are a big hit, too, like spring and fall varieties.
12. Convenience Store Snacks
You can’t go to Japan without stopping into a convenience store for some fun novelty snacks, like Chocorooms, Hello Panda, or Japanese Pringles. But here’s where you can make your gift truly stand out from the rest: go for specialty flavors, limited edition varieties, and those that are only available in the region where you are.
You didn’t think we’d forget everyone’s favorite Japanese rice wine, did you? The perfect drinkable treat, sake will remind you of your adventures in Japan long after you’ve returned home. Specialty bottles abound from Sapporo to Fukuoka, and, yes, you can bring them back with you. In the United States, you’re permitted to bring a liter of alcohol into the country duty-free for personal use, so prepare to be selective! Bonus: Sake serving sets are also popular souvenirs to bring home and make great companions to good bottles.
Non-Food and Traditional Japanese Souvenirs
Sadly, food won’t last forever, so it’s not the only thing you should be hauling home on your next transpacific journey. The key to finding a non-edible Japanese souvenir that you or your recipient will cherish for a lifetime is to buy authentic items from the area of Japan you’re visiting or to select a traditional item that signifies the country as a whole. The following options are among the most popular and easily accessible souvenirs tourists tend to find in souvenir shops, markets, and street sales.
14. Fancy Chopsticks
Got someone on your list who lives for sushi and ramen but only uses cheap, disposable chopsticks? We’ve got the gift for you! In Japan, you can find extremely nice boxed chopsticks sets that make cool and useful gifts for everyone back home (and yourself) for quite cheap. Available in tons of unique designs and styles, chopsticks are easy to tailor to your recipient and some stores will even personalize them with a name or other text. If you’re in Tokyo, check out the luxury options at chopsticks stores Natsuno and Morita.
15. Daruma Dolls
Arguably the most popular non-food Japanese souvenir is the small papier-mâché doll known as daruma. They’re seen as lucky charms and symbols of encouragement, with fortunes inside, and come in several different colors, all of which have their own meaning. For example, red dolls are given for good fortune and to ward off evil, while yellow can symbolize hope for financial wealth and prosperity. Daruma dolls are lightweight and cheap, so they’re great for travel.
16. Lucky Cats
A steadfast symbol of Japan, the lucky cat figurine (maneki neko) is given to bring good luck to the recipient. You’ll see these cute little cats waving all over the country, making them some of the easiest souvenirs to find no matter where you’re traveling. Plus, they come in many different materials, colors, styles, and price points, so you’ll definitely find one that suits your souvenir goals.
17. Kosheki Dolls
Kosheki are simple wooden dolls for children which traditionally come from the Tōhoku region of Japan. The painted toy dolls typically feature a long, cylindrical base with a round head and no arms or legs. Although these dolls come in many intricate and collectible varieties, they also make fantastic gifts for the kids on your list, especially when you purchase the super-affordable varieties that are commonly found in souvenir and gift shops.
The ancient art of paper folding serves as a steadfast symbol of Japanese culture, so it makes a wonderful gift for first-time and repeat tourists. In Japan, origami-lovers flock to shops, museums, and galleries that display the fascinating process of making, dying, folding, and decorating paper. Whether you opt to buy authentic origami paper (head to Daiso, the quirky 100-yen shop in Tokyo for some cheap options) or pick up pre-folded works of art made by local crafters, there’s no shortage of brilliant paper creations to bring home from the archipelago.
An umbrella is another perfectly functional, traditional gift you can find all over Japan. You’ll see them at different levels of intricacies and price points wherever you go within the country, but there are a few unique and collectible options to consider. Some special versions include the Japanese Magic Umbrella that reveals a unique pattern when it gets wet or the trendy Waterfront brand umbrellas from Cool Magic Shu’s, but you’ll see eye-catching options all over the country.
20. Folding Fans
Japanese folding fans (sensu) are another lightweight, budget-friendly and super-traditional option that you’ll be delighted to share with your friends and family back home. Bonus points for the fact that they fold up really small, so you can grab a handful or two without adding a ton of weight. From cheap, paper options that cost very little to intricate, handmade sensu made of fabric and wood, you’ll find a fan that sparks your interest and suits any recipient.
Exploring Japanese Shops
One of the best parts about Japan is immersing yourself in the culture of food and commerce. Meandering through the many jam-packed street shops, convenience stores, and markets will help you come away with a deeper understanding of Japanese culture while also giving you a tangible memory that will remind you of your trip for a lifetime. Until you get the chance to visit in person, Bokksu has all the best edible Japanese souvenirs you can try right now! Consider it our omiyage to you.