traditional Japanese things
Did ever happened to you to be in a foreign country, to wish to bring home some souvenir and to be unable to decide what to buy? In Japan, this may be an interesting topic, since there are so many options…
From my experience, I compiled a list of Japanese souvenirs which will really highlight some typical aspects of Japan… I hope it will be helpful!
1. Maneki neko
Everywhere in Japan, from shops and restaurants to banks and offices, we are welcomed by a statue representing a beckoning cat… this is the maneki neko, one of the most common lucky charms in Japan, thought to attract good luck in business and prosperity.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Maneki neko
They are also used as in house ornaments, and they are available in all sizes and materials, at nearly every gift shop (probably the best known being the Nakamise street, near Senso-ji Temple), so every tourist may have one…
If you wish the “real thing", go to Gotoku-ji Temple, the Maneki neko’s place of origin:
Top souvenirs from Japan - Maneki neko, Gotoku-ji Temple
Tenugui is one of the most popular souvenirs you can buy in Japan, an object with so many usages that it is definitely a must have. Tenugui is a thin rectangular cotton towel, about 90cm long, printed with various models (geometrical, floral or ukiyo-e). It can be used as a towel, worn as a headband, used to wrap gifts or to decorate the room as a table cloth or a tapestry…
Top souvenirs from Japan - Tenugui
Yukata is a casual light cotton summer kimono, widely worn at festivals and at the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).
Yukata are widely available in all the tourist areas, but if you wish to buy a good quality one, go to a regular clothing store, where the variety of models is larger and the materials are of higher quality.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Yukata
4. Geta or Zōri
Yukata is often worn with geta, a traditional Japanese footwear that resemble both flip-flops and clogs.
Click on photo for higher resolution:
If the wooden geta are a little too much for your feet, you can choose the zōri sandals, a more formal (and comfortable) footwear, regularly associated with the kimono.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Zori
5. Japanese hand fans
During summer, on the street, in trains or in restaurants, you’ll see a lot of people using fans. Whether they are folding (ōgi) or non-bending flat fans (uchiwa), the hand fans are so popular in Japan that it is almost impossible to leave Japan without having one.
If you participate at festivals you may receive some special occasions hand fans, and sometimes plastic fans are also distributed on the street, as a marketing material.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Japanese fans
6. Wagasa (Traditional Japanese umbrella)
Japan has an old and strong tradition regarding umbrellas. The wagasa umbrella is used not only for rain protection, but also as an accessory for tea ceremony or in traditional theater (kabuki).
Even if it was replaced for day to day use by the cheap plastic umbrellas, the wagasa, made of bamboo and Japanese paper, is a symbol of traditional Japan and is one of the most popular souvenirs.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Traditional Japanese Umbrellas
The sound of furin is one of the specific sounds of Japan, heard not only on traditional areas but also in modern buildings. Produced since the Edo period, the furin is a glass or metal bell, usually hung in front of the window or door, making sounds in the wind to announce a refreshing breeze.
You can find furin on many tourist places in Japan, but you can find a wider variety during some fairs (like the Hozuki Ichi, taking place at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa).
Top souvenirs from Japan - Furin
8. Ukiyo-e prints
The ukiyo-e, “pictures of the floating world", appeared during the 17th century and are still quite popular. Representing landscapes, historical scenes, famous actors or sumo wrestlers, ukiyo-e is the main artistic genre of woodblock printing in Japan and is probably a must have in any Japan traveller’s collection…
Top souvenirs from Japan - Ukiyo-e prints
9. Daruma dolls
Representing Bodhidharma (the founder of Zen Buddhism), Daruma are spherical dolls, usually red colored, amulets for good luck, prosperity and for power to accomplish goals.
A Daruma Doll is always sold without drawing the eyes. The owner, when making the wish, draws the first eye and the second eye is drawn only after the wish is fulfilled.
You can buy Daruma Dolls from almost every gift shop, but if you wish something special, at the beginning of the year, various Daruma fairs are held throughout Japan. The biggest fair is held at Darumadera Temple in Takasaki, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Tokyo.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Daruma dolls
10. Japanese chopsticks
The traditional Japanese chopsticks are made from lacquered wood with a pointed end, and comes in several sizes (usually for men, women and children). They are different from the Chinese versions - the Japanese chopsticks are shorter and more rounded.
They are often sold in sets, as decorative objects, many of them painted with various motifs and they are a very pleasant souvenir especially for those who enjoy the Japanese food.
If you’re a beginner chopsticks user, the disposable chopsticks made of raw wood, distributed for free at the convenience stores, may be a lot more helpful until you master the usage of the chopsticks…
Top souvenirs from Japan - Chopsticks
11. Paper Lanterns
The paper lanterns are made of washi (traditional Japanese paper), glued on a bamboo frame and are a traditional form of illumination in Japan. They are used at festivals, in parks, at restaurants or hotels and as home decorations.
The most popular version is called chōchin and it has a frame of split bamboo wound up in a spiral. You can find them at tourist areas, often decorated with the name of the place written in kanji.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Paper Lantern
12. Tanuki Statue
tanuki is the name used for the Japanese raccoon dog, but it also represents a magical imaginary being from the Japanese folklore. It is said that the tanuki are pranksters, tricking sellers with magic leafs that look like money, masters of disguise and even shape-shifters…
Statues representing tanuki are everywhere in Japan, in front of the bars and restaurants (especially noodle shops), with the role of inviting the customers in, beckoning in a way similar to Maneki Neko.
A tanuki statue is a good luck charm, and even if you don’t believe in its powers, it remains a fun souvenir, especially because they are often represented with disproportionately large testicles…
Top souvenirs from Japan - Tanuki Statue
13. Japanese Traditional Dolls
… to the musha ningyo (warrior dolls), used for Tango no sekku festival…
Top souvenirs from Japan - Japanese Dolls
… and to the Ichimatsu dolls.
You can buy good quality traditional Japanese dolls from gift shops, but if you wish a really special, extremely high quality doll, you can find it only at a specialized shop - but be warned, the prices are very high.
Top souvenirs from Japan - Japanese Dolls
14. Japanese Food Replica Samples (Sampuru)
sampuru, Japanese food plastic replicas, are displayed at almost any Japanese restaurant. They are handmade, carefully sculpted, amazingly painted and customized for each restaurant to look exactly like the real dish!
You can buy sampuru on Tokyo’s Kappabashi Street, where besides the life-size replicas (my favorites are the beer glasses) you can also find sampuru souvenirs made as fridge magnets or key-chains…
Top souvenirs from Japan - Sampuru