With travel restrictions easing and borders opening, there will hopefully be more opportunities to come in and out of Japan in the coming months. So, what kind of gifts should you buy for people back home? This article rounds up top omiyage (souvenirs) from Japan, with many original products that will be useful for the discerning armchair traveler.
Omiyage for the Writer
For any budding writer or artist, a handmade notebook makes for the perfect gift. Japan’s infamous made-to-order notebook shop Kakimori in Asakusa makes use of beautiful Japanese washi paper to craft the covers of its notebooks. Washi paper, for the uninitiated, is a traditional paper-making technique that incorporates various natural elements into the pulp itself. The addition of fabrics, found objects and natural materials such as pressed flowers, gives the paper a unique, luxurious texture.
Other than washi, leather and fabric are also on offer, with over 60 different options available. Once the cover is selected, paper type, fastener design and spiral color are customizable, with the addition of metal page tips for a touch of elegance.
Any givers will be able to enjoy the experience of designing a notebook, watching as it is crafted in the shop. Who knows, you may even walk out with your own too.
Omiyage for the Fashionista
A great choice for those who appreciate fashion could be a kimono or other variety of Japanese traditional wear such as a yukata (light kimono made of cotton or similar material for the summer). In an increasingly self-conscious world, wearing an item made from kimono fabric may be more practical than a kimono itself, with bonus sustainability points.
The market for repurposing kimono in Japan is vast with a variety of Japan-based designers making the most of the readily-available kimono fabrics.
A good example of this is Tokyo Kaleidoscope , which fashions opulent kimono material into custom-made clothing for both men and women. Another pickup is [email protected] Fabric, which repurposes kimono fabrics into baseball caps, even featuring a holographic sticker for the streetwise.
Omiyage for the Chocolate Lover
Candy and chocolate are fail-safe souvenirs. So much so that it can almost seem too easy. KitKat Chocolatory in Shibuya ticks two boxes: it’s crowd-pleasing and customizable.
Japan is famed for its funky KitKat flavors, with souvenir shops full of Strawberry Cheesecake KitKats in Mount Fuji boxes, Hokkaido Melon Kitkats and Wasabi flavored specials. But rather than going into a normal souvenir shop, the KitKat Chocolatory , presided over by top patisserie Yasumasa Takagi, is a hot tip.
The 70-minute workshop comes with a drink and allows participants to choose their chocolate. After the chocolate is chosen, attendees put the wafers in and select from over 17 toppings, before popping the unique KitKat into one of four special boxes. This makes an excellent customized souvenir for even the fussiest of friends.
Omiyage for the Whisky Enthusiast
While scotch whisky is the most famous, true whisky fans will love a souvenir of Japanese whisky. It’s known for its double distilled method, modeled after the Scottish technique with a Japanese twist, using local woods such as cedar and oak for the barrels.
In typical Japanese fashion, the process is meticulous, leading to deep, smoky flavors, distinctive to Japan. Visitors to the country’s most reputable distilleries, Suntory and Nikka , will be delighted with the tours. But for people back home who can’t make it, a bottle is the next best thing.
Liquors Hasegawa is an independent liquor store, underneath Tokyo Train Station. The owners are well versed with choosing liquor for gifts and are on hand to advise any omiyage hunters. Crowd pleasers are the Hibiki from Suntory and the Yoichi from Nikka, but make sure to consult with the friendly staff to get an even more personalized gift.
Omiyage for the Cook
Japanese knives are famed worldwide for sharpness and durability, with a good Japanese knife lasting a lifetime. Japanese knifemakers command a certain amount of respect for their dedication to the craft, with expensive Japanese knives costing as much as a small house (or a Tokyo apartment).
Wallet-friendly knives are still of exceedingly high caliber and one street in Tokyo is filled to the brim with all sorts of varieties, from the mortgage-ready variety through to the affordable types. The knives on Kappabashi-dori can be carbon steel or stainless steel, blades which are decorated and those which are plain, handles of Japanese cedar and others of birch, the choices are endless.
Two of its most famous shops — Tsubaya and Kamata Hakensha — have experts ready to help with any niggling requests or souvenir queries. Many of the businesses are family-run and have been passed on through generations, so even just a visit to the street is fun, to soak up the atmosphere.