There’s a lot of weird and wonderful gifts to buy in Tokyo. Here is a list of the top 10 souvenirs you should get for someone (or yourself!) when you are traveling in Japan.
1. Plastic food replicas are used all over the world to show incoming customers what a restaurant’s food will look like when served. Though found in restaurants across the world, these food replicas are so popular in Japan that there are stores dedicated to selling them to anyone and everyone. You might be thinking, “Why would I buy this?” Well, why not! For any food you can think of, there is sure to be a plastic food replica of it. No trip to Japan is complete without buying at least one of these. They’re a great (and weird) addition to someone’s house!
2.If there was a list of the three things that Japan was most famous for, the list would be: samurai, sushi, and KitKats. In the West, there is really only one flavor commonly sold – chocolate. Japan, however, sells a wide variety of innovative flavors such as jasmine, matcha, and wasabi, to name just a few. There is now even a KitKat boutique in Seibu department store in Ikebukuro and at the Daimaru by Tokyo Station, so head there to stock up on limited edition flavors.
3. Japanese knives are different from Western knives in the way they are forged, tempered, and shaped. While Western knives generally have double-sided edges, Japanese knives have single-sided edges. The Japanese believe that a single-edged blade is not only sharper, but can add more power to cuts and slices.
Photo source: japan-knives by sahua d
4. Japanese nail clippers are a much different item than their Western counterparts. What remains the same is the tool’s function. Japanese or Western, both cut toe/finger nails. What makes Japanese clippers different (and arguably more superior) is their quality, and cutting precision. For a higher price, you get a long-lasting clipper that will cleanly cut your nails. Great quality nail clippers are available at stores such as Loft and Tokyu Hands.
5. Many people who are interested in Japan have at least a passing level of interest in Japanese anime or manga. Gifts for your otaku friends can include products such as posters, CDs, DVDs, and figurines from their favorite shows. Anime lover or not, it is highly recommended you check these out – they’re quite intricate! The perfect place to shop for these is Akihabara, where you will find dozens of stores that sell anime and gaming goods.
Photo source: Akira by Peter Baker
Note: If you’d like some help on knowing where to start in Akihabara, visit our article Akihabara 101: Sorting Through the Madness.
6. “Sa-shi-su-se-so” is the phrase the Japanese use when describing the basis of their cooking. Translating into English, it is “sugar-salt-soy vinegar-soy sauce-miso paste.” Japanese cuisine is intricate, delicious, and comes in many forms. However, what forever seems to stand is the importance of these five condiments.
Acquiring these materials outside of Japan is not difficult, but what you purchase outside of Japan and what you purchase in Japan can be easily differentiated by the quality and taste. Cheap knock-offs are everywhere, but only in Japan can you obtain this harmonious group of condiments at the best quality, for a reasonable price. If you or your loved ones enjoy cooking Japanese food, then “sa-shi-su-se-so” is a must.
Photo source: Japanese condiments by David Woo
7. The popular maneki neko is heavily integrated in Chinese and Japanese cultures, and has found his way into many other countries around the world. He is actually a talisman that is said to bring good fortune, prosperity, and customers (if placed in a restaurant). Outside of Japan and China, it is difficult to purchase these cats for yourself unless live near a Chinatown. In Japan, however, there are stores everywhere that carry them. When you visit, pick up a few of these and share the prosperity they bring!
Photo source: Maneki neko shop by Luis villa del Campo
8. In Japanese culture, it’s the norm to have little, dangly charms on one’s phone. Whether it’s attached for personal expression, sentimental reasons, or just for fun, you’ll see many people in Japan (kids and adults alike) with charms attached to their phones. Phone charms come in millions (not an exaggeration) of shapes, sizes, and colors. There are even plush toys attached to some charms! When visiting Japan, it is imperative that you pick some of these lightweight souvenirs up. With them, you’ll not only fit in, but you’ll find yourself wanting more and more – they’re inherently addicting to buy!
Photo source: charm yourself by chelsea marie hicks
9.In the West, painting one’s nails entails a simple change in color, and possibly some glittery-substance to add a little flair. When buying nail polish in Japan, you will find that it comes in sets, with multiple bottles of polish, glitter, and other items to help you create unique nails. Japanese nail art is quite simply a spectacle. You can join in on the self-expression, too!
Visit any store that has makeup and get your creativity on! Loft and Tokyo Hands both have a good selection of nail art that you can do yourself. If you’d like a professional to work their magic though, head to Nail Salon Pinky or Ken’s Nails.
Photo source: smiley infestation by antjeverena
10. Wind chimes (fuurin) are extremely popular in Japan and are said to have made their first appearance in the Edo period (17th century). Moreover, Japanese-style wind chimes are light, small, and create beautiful sounds. There are two major types of wind chimes – “Edo fuurin” (glass), and “Nanbutetsu fuurin” (iron cast/bronze). These two have distinct sounds and it is highly recommended to pick up one of each to experience the refreshing sounds that both have to offer. In addition, Japanese wind chimes differ from their Western counterparts by virtue of the small pieces of paper attached to them. These pieces of paper generally have little images on them with Japanese sayings, but sometimes they are blank, giving you the opportunity to write something of your own on them! You should be able to find Japanese wind chimes in Asakusa, which is full of many tourist and souvenir shops.
Photo source: Fuurin by Joi Ito
For more ideas on fun souvenirs to buy in Tokyo, check out our article The Last-Minute Japanese Gift Giving Guide. If you love buying quirky gifts, we recommend visiting The World Connection in Harajuku, a fun little variety store on Takeshita-street.