Japan Souvenir Shopping

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When the people of Japan tell you that shopping is their national sport, they’re not joking. For visitors, however, it’s an integral part of life which really should not be missed. Even if you're not an avid shopper, setting aside time to cruise Japan’s bustling markets and gargantuan department stores should be high on your “must-do” list. For the uninitiated, however, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, not only by the choice of products available but also the innovation behind them. Think of something you want, especially in the world of electronics, and you can probably buy it in Japan. One of the fun parts of travelling, however, is collecting mementoes of your trip to take home, and when it comes to shopping for enticing and unusual souvenirs, Japan is in a league of its own. So what should be on your “must buy” list? Here’s my pick of the best. 

Edible Mementoes 

There aren't too many destinations from where you'd consider bringing home edible souvenirs, but in Japan they are top of the list for everyone - not just food lovers. Take a meander through any cavernous department store food hall, such as Takashimaya in Osaka or Tokyo, and it’s difficult not to be tempted by the exquisitely packaged goodies, from sweets and chocolate to cookies, chips and cake. Chocolate lovers especially should not leave Japan without green tea chocolate. Usually a dark variety it isn’t especially sweet, but possessing the delicate flavour of green tea it makes for a unique Japanese souvenir. 

Gadgets and Gizmos 

Most of Japan's cities and larger towns have huge electronic megastores such as Yodobashi Camera, where you can buy anything from the latest digital camera to an electronic dictionary which can translate a dozen languages. But Tokyo's world-famous Akihabara, aka “Electric Town”, is the place to head for if you’re keen to try out the technology of tomorrow, or you just want something fun, however pointless. Many of the goods you can buy hit the market here before anywhere else in the world, but the main problem you face here is not being overwhelmed by the choice on offer, but handling the sensory overload. From the minute you leave the local train station, you’re bombarded with flashing signs and a barrage of incessant recorded sales jingles pitching the many wonders of the latest digital camera, mobile phone or laptop computer. 

Charms and Traditions 

The markets surrounding some of Japan’s oldest and most revered temples and shrines also double up as great places to find fun souvenirs, and in Tokyo, one of the best temple markets is undeniably Asakusa. In addition to being home to Tokyo's oldest temple, Asakusa Kannon, it’s also the home of a colourful market called Nakamise Dori. It stretches for almost a kilometre, and is packed with stalls selling all manner of souvenirs from Japanese fans and paper lanterns, to solar powered money cats and Japanese doll key rings. In Kyoto, the winding thoroughfare leading up to the famous hillside temple of Kiyomizu-dera takes you past a slew of fascinating souvenir shops. The temple itself also has little stalls selling mementoes, such as charms you can hang from your mobile phone to bring you luck or love, or to ward off evil spirits. 

Geisha Goodies 

With her ghostly white face, scarlet lips, and ebony hair waxed and sculpted like a work of art, a geisha cannot help but draw curious stares - especially from a foreigner.  And thanks to Rob Marshall’s 2006 adaptation of Arthur Golden’s 1997 bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha, the world’s insatiable curiosity regarding Japan’s legendary female entertainers continues. Geisha paraphernalia, including wigs, hair combs, make up, fans and hair pins, make unique souvenirs, and the one of the best places in the country to buy them is in Kyoto’s enigmatic Gion district. And with a bit of luck, you may also spot a real geisha while you are shopping! 

100 Yen Shops 

There are tens of thousands of “hyaku en” shops across Japan ranging in size from back-street hole-in-the-wall outfits, to multi-level department stores. Every item on the shelves of these amazing emporiums costs a simple 100 yen (plus sales tax). Although the 100 Yen Shops clearly aim their business at domestic consumers, there are plenty of alluring potential souvenirs for visitors if you are prepared to do a bit of searching. If you like decorated chopsticks, for example, the ones in the 100 Yen Shops are often as good as those in fancy department stores - only at a fraction of the price. Other worthwhile bargains include nice toys for younger children, surprisingly good quality Japanese ceramics and pottery, cheap cosmetics, and decorative pens. And at the kitschy end of the scale, you can also find uniquely Japanese goodies such as anime figures, Hello Kitty toilet paper and chopsticks, and professional wrestlers’ masks. 

The Best Of The Rest 

Lacquer ware including chopsticks, plates and divine jewellery boxes. 

Silk goods including kimonos, handkerchiefs, purses, business card holders and slippers. 

Bottles of local sake, especially those in ornate bottles or with fancy labels. 

Sake sets including ornate cups and jugs. 

China, particularly the exquisite Noritake range. 

Beer glasses and mugs from local Japanese brewers such as Kirin and Asahi.


Joanna Hall


  • 4
    Love Shopping Here

    Posted by Paula Richards on 2nd Sep 2019

    I love shopping in Japan it's a really great experience. The quality of the products is high, there are some really neat things to buy...the only thing is the exchange rate now which means things aren't as affordable as they once were. Woe is the Aussie $

  • 5
    Love Japan

    Posted by Joyce Fingal on 2nd Sep 2019

    Although my granddad didnt want me to visit because of the war, I have been to Japan twice - Tokyo and Kyoto - and love it. The food, the people and the sights, it can't be beaten!