Japan is full of amazing things, in terms of design, price and usage. Lost in the sea of goodies, it’s hard to know where to begin and what to buy in Japan. Don’t worry – we put together a list of things, with which you can’t go wrong in hunting what to take home during your visit to Japan.
No. 1 Japanese Sweets and Snacks
Japanese sweets and snacks are simply amazing. If you haven’t tried them, you haven’t lived your life to the fullest. Make sure you buy Japanese sweets and snacks during your visit to Japan because they can be pricy or simply unavailable in your own country.
In terms of regular, everyday snacks, best places to buy them are regular, everyday supermarkets, such as Ito Yokado, Seiyu, Life, Aeon, Diei and CO-OP. Go to the snack section at these stores and you’ll find most of the famous brands such as Pocky, Pretz and Hi-Chew and much more.
They offer the most reasonable prices as they serve discerning local customers. Credit cards are accepted at these shops and some of them are open 24/7. Ask a concierge at your accommodation if there are these supermarkets nearby and their business hours.
Another good place to buy sweet things in Japan are the basement food halls (aka. Depachika) at major department stores, particularly Isetan, Takashiyama, Mitsukoshi and Keio Hyakkaten. They are equal to theme parks and you’ll be mesmerized by the expanse of exquisite sweets and snacks there.
Japanese sweets and snacks such as dorayaki, manju, sponge cakes, etc, at these posh department stores have a short best-use date. So, go to these stores and buy them the day before or on the day you leave.
If you are in Tokyo, Shinjuku Isetan is the must-visit department and its basement is literally the world’s best food fall.
If you run out of time, you can always rely on convenience stores such as Seven Eleven, Family Mart, Lowson and Sunkus. Every convenience store in Japan has its private brand. Seven Eleven’s “Select” items are interesting souvenirs.
No. 2 Japanese Cosmetics
Japanese cosmetics continue to enjoy growing popularity overseas. Naturally Japan is the best place to buy Japanese cosmetics – be ready to be amazed at the unlimited variety of cosmetic items for women and men!
For everyday cosmetics, the best store is probably the biggest discount store, Don Quixote, aka. Donki. Look out for the Donki’s famous smiley penguin or check their store online first. Some Donki stores offer duty-free.
Drug stores (“Yakkyoku”) are also great places to buy Japanese cosmetics. Forget the image of drag stores in your own country – Japanese drug stores are like a small amusement park, selling millions of different things including cosmetics, food, beauty treatments and so on. You won’t go wrong with Matsumoto Kiyoshi (aka. Matsukiyo), Tsuruha Drug, Sun Drug, Seijo Cocokarafine.
Major electronic department stores also often have a cosmetics section. Yodobashi Camera, Big Camera and Yamada Denki are the three best electronic shops to buy cosmetics. When you go to these stores, make sure you get a free membership card before you start shopping. You get points on what you buy, but these points often cannot be used on the same day when you use it for the first time. So make sure you shop some items on the first day and go back there to buy the rest on your shopping list.
Not interested in cheap cosmetics? Well, then, hit the major department stores such as Isetan, Takashiyama, Mitsukoshi and Keio Hyakkaten. The first floors of these stores are dedicated to selling exclusive cosmetics where you’ll receive Japan’s omotenashi hospitality from ever smiling classy shop assistants.
No. 3 Electronics
Japanese TV stations report on a daily basis that hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors to Japan go crazy shopping Japanese rice cookers and electric toilet seats. They’d probably take home many other electronic goods such as washing machines, refrigerators, etc. Indeed Japanese electronic goods continue to attract consumers overseas and they are must-buy things during your stay in Japan.
Best shops to go to are Yodobashi Camera, Big Camera and Yamada Denki. As mentioned earlier, make sure you get your membership card before you buy anything. Some of their stores are duty-free and the most entertaining electronic store is probably BIQLO in Shinjuku. BIQLO is the collaboration of Big Camera and Uniqlo. It’s a one-off store and apparently shopping bags with BIQLO logo are sought-after items overseas!
No. 4 Traditional Crafts & Clothes
To claim that you know something about Japan, you must own a piece of Japanese traditional craft. For instance, Japanese pottery and porcelain are some of the country’s oldest art forms, dating back to the Neolithic period. The history of Japanese pottery and porcelain is long and complex, but to cut to the chase, the following brands are the three best brands to go for: Noritake, Imari/Aritayaki and Bizenyaki. They can be purchased at major department stores and also pottery and porcelain festivals that take place throughout the country (Festival schedule – sorry only in Japanese)
Another type of must-buy Japanese traditional crafts is ironware. The best iron cast items are Nanbu Tekki. Their craftsmanship is amazing and design is just exquisite. They tend to be heavy but that’s what makes this item a special memory of Japan.
If you want something lighter, then, good old souvenir, kimono, is in order. Nowadays many tourists buy second hand kimono and reassembling the kimono materials, they make their own items back home. Most of souvenir shops offer second hand kimono, but their quality is slighly questionable. Try Tansu-ya for a wider variety and better quality.
If you have a deeper pocket, try Japanese silk. Among all the companies that produce exquisite silk products in Japan, Yaccomaricardo’s line of silk clothes is highly recommended. Yaccomaricardo has been known for its pin-tucks and Thai silk products, but began offering Japan-produced silk line in recent years. They use only Japan-produced silk and, as the number of items is always limited, they have become highly sought-after items. Visit their flagship shop is in Ginza – every shopper’s paradise – and get assisted by elegant and classy English-speaking shop assistants.
No. 5 Japanese Tea
Japanese tea is widely considered as one of the main factors contributing to Japanese long life expectancy. You don’t have to stop drinking whatever you enjoy drinking (for us, it’s coffee:-), but mix it up with green tea and enjoy a sense of serenity and better health that Japanese tea is known for producing.
Just like Japanese traditional crafts, Japanese tea has a loooong history. But just remember 5 kinds of Japanese tea: Matcha, Gyokuro, Sencha, Genmaicha and Hojicha. They look and taste differently.
Matcha is perhaps most well known outside Japan. Matcha is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea. You can have it as it is with hot water, but many people also use matcha for cooking sweets, such as pancakes and ice cream.
Gyokuro is a type of shaded green tea, and it’s often considered as the most exquisite type of Japanese tea, while sencha is the most standard, everyday type of green tea, aka. Ryokucha (green tea). Genmaicha is produced with green tea and roasted brown rice, and hojicha is made with green teas roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal (hence its dark brown color) while most Japanese teas are steamed.
Kyoto (known for its Uji brands), Shizuoka and Kyushu are three biggest producers of Japanese tea.
Not too keen to spend 50-100 dollars on a small can of matcha or a small bag of Japanese tea? Don’t worry. Even if you get reasonably-priced teas from supermarkets, you’ll still enjoy them. Good matcha and tea brands for everyday use are Itohen’s Oi Ocha and Suntory’s Kyuemon (yes, they make Japanese teas too), with which you won’t go wrong.
Most popular tea drink is probably matcha drinks. Matcha latte is particularly popular, and the best ones to consider for you are Muji Instant Matcha Latte Powder (my favorite!), Blendy Stick Matcha Ou Lait, Nestle Flothy Uji Matcha Latte.
In sum, I hope you have a better idea of what things to buy in Japan. There are much more you should consider buying while visiting in Japan, but above items will do if you have limited budget or time. When unsure, simply visit major department stores, supermarkets and major discount stores. Enjoy being lost in the expanse of amazing Japanese things!
Shibuya Scramble Crossing