Fair warning: this is one of the biggest souvenir hauls I’ve had this year
One of my favorite parts of Japanese culture is their art of gift giving – there’s even a special word for it! Omiyage is a souvenir that’s specifically gifted to friends, family, and coworkers. However, it’s not just any regular souvenir from the tourist shop – omiyage has to be individually wrapped (usually in cute packaging) to make it easy to share. The first time I received an omiyage present was when my freelance clients, a small start-up from Japan, bought me “cat tongue” cookies* from Hokkaido.
The other reason why I love Japanese souvenirs so much is that they vary by region!
That’s right: if you visit a souvenir shop in Fukuoka, Tokyo, and Hokkaido, you’ll find souvenirs that can only be bought in that area – sort of like limited edition goodies. Paris has Eiffel Tower keychains, Amsterdam has wooden clogs, and Tokyo has … Tokyo Banana treats. That didn’t make much sense, did it?
Anyway, check out my Japan/omiyage haul below, and let me know your favorite. ♡
*-No cats were hurt in the making of these cookies
**-Sorry for the photos in advance, my usual backdrop was taking a vacation ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Japanese Candy Haul
The entire haul: From northern Aomori all the way down to Kanagawa
Apples & Aomori
One perk of getting the JR East pass was having 7 full days to ride around on the bullet train and visit places we had no idea existed. Places like Aomori. One lovely day, when we had absolutely no idea what to do, an idea popped into my head:
-Hey, you wanna jump on a shinkansen and see where it takes us?
–Yeah, why not.
As luck would have it, we chose the longest shinkansen line in Japan. These two clueless n00bs traveled 419 miles and 4.5 hours -one way! – between Tokyo and Aomori just for fun. The only things we got to see was the Hirosaki Castle , the inside of a tourist bus (on the way to the castle), and the JR station. On the walk back, however, we saw Aomori’s claim to fame: apple trees!
Did you know that the Fuji apple isn’t actually grown near Mt. Fuji? (Gasp)
No, it was actually developed and grown in Aomori prefecture – the same place
we got lost in visited!
If you walk into any souvenir shop, you’re bound to find anything and everything apple related. Heck, you can even buy Aomori apples if it’s the right season.
The little apple tart on the right is the Ragueneau Patissier’s Ringo (Apple) Stick. It was about $3USD, with flaky dough on the outside and a soft inside filled with apples. You can buy a whole box of these babies, but I purchased an individual pack because I was hungry.
The huge box in the middle is りんご の シュークリーム (Apple Cream Puffs). For about $10, you get 32 little doughy puffs with apple cream inside. I’m not the biggest fan of apple-flavored things, but this turned out pretty good! I’d definitely recommend it with a hot cup of tea or milk to bring out the flavors.
Finally, here’s me cheating with the 信州りんご (Shinshu Apple KitKat). Why am I cheating? Because these candies are from a different region!
The apple KitKats are actually from the Nagano prefecture and we picked them up while visiting the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park nearby. We had no idea if we would see them again, so we stocked up. See, what did I tell you about everything being limited edition? :)
Going Bananas for Tokyo Banana
The Tokyo Banana (東京ばな奈) takes the prize for the most well-known omiyage – because it’s the namesake of Japan’s capital, Tokyo. The box we purchased is the original version, but you can expect to find a ton more flavors like chocolate, strawberry, “giraffe” (caramel custard), and more. Each sponge cake is shaped like a banana, and there’s banana custard inside.
The 12-pack retails for around $12 to $15. If you don’t have any immediate plans to travel to Japan, you can also import it from Amazon.
If you do plan on visiting, the Tokyo Banana is one of those souvenirs you can’t miss because they are literally sold everywhere: JR train stations, little souvenir kiosks, NRT airport, and (my favorite) underground shopping malls. There are even huge, fancy, yellow displays that consist of only bananas!
Mt. Fuji & Hakone
Seeing Mt. Fuji was one of the top things on my bucket list this trip and … (wait for it) … it was so foggy that I didn’t get the chance. We even traveled back the next day, but the weather wouldn’t budge and we just stuck with taking photos of Mt Fuji on postcards (I’m only half kidding). However, the candy from Hakone was amazing.
The little blue box at the top – Mt. Fuji Crunch (富士山チョコレートクランチ) – is my favorite of the three – inside are crunchy chocolate and vanilla bars. Plus, it’s shaped like Fuji-san!
The blue box on the right had a few different types of candy such as chocolate-covered cookies, crunchy palmiers, and even a mini doughnut.
Finally, the third box had chocolate eggs filled with a sweet cream. Wait, aren’t eggs usually white? There’s a special reason for that – find out below!
The Hakone region is known for Owakudani, a volcanic area filled with sulfur and hot springs. Locals and tourists can hike up to the top and enjoy 黒卵 (kuro tamago, literally “black egg”). The eggs are dipped into the sulfuric springs and boiled until the shell turns black and gets its signature color. Wanna know a life hack to living 5-7 years longer? Eat one black egg!
Legend says that there’s a spirit in the area that blesses the eggs and makes them lucky – just don’t try to eat a ton at once or you’ll risk a stomach ache.
The eggs above are replicas of the real eggs, because Owakudani was unfortunately closed when we visited in mid-April 2016 due to high volcanic activity. They were made in the same way but at a different location close to the valley. It still was a ton of fun to try the “smoked eggs” and making my family eat them to get +7 years ;)
Kit Kats & Misc.
Did you know there are over 200 different flavors of Kit Kats in the world? You’d have a tough time finding them in your grocery store, however, because most of them are only sold in Japan (and Amazon ). There’s the simple Strawberry flavor, Easter’s limited edition Pancake flavor, and, if you’re particularly adventurous, Wasabi flavor.
Heck, there’s even a Sake flavor for those who want to mix booze and chocolate.
Even though there were a ton of flavors to choose from, I only got the Easter pancake and Maccha Green Tea flavor. Each was around $4 or $5, while the Walgreens near my apartment sells them for double the price (whyyyy ;_;). The maccha is another great souvenir to get for friends and coworkers since green tea is becoming so mainstream now – plus they’re delicious.
The rest of the items in the photo were, believe it or not, from the 100Yen store. My favorite was probably the Pocky Midi, since I’m so used to eating the regular Pocky. The midi have shorter, chubbier sticks and a bit more chocolate coating. Yum! The two Alfort chocolate bars were also amazing and reminded me of a chocolate wafer cookie.
Another result of the 100Yen aisle – the gummy candy! My top favorites were the Suica (watermelon) flavor on the bottom, Coca Cola fizzy candies hiding in the back, and the Orange Fettucine strips.
The Kracie peach gum drops felt like I was eating real rose petals (and before you ask, no, I’ve never tried them ) and was an … interesting experience.
Are you getting cavities from looking at all those candies? Let’s check out the next set of omiyage: What’s up with their blank stare? Why do they have handlebar mustaches? What are these tiny little creatures? They’re daruma! We took our JR pass and visited the city of Takasaki, about 2 hours north of Tokyo, where the daruma originated.
The were inspired by a monk who spent 9 years meditating, trying to reach enlightenment, before he accidentally fell asleep. He was so angry with himself that he cut off his eyelids so he would never fall asleep. Ta dah! Now the daruma doll is seen as a gift of perseverance and good luck. If you receive a daruma as a gift, you’re supposed to fill a pupil in one of the eyes and make a wish. If it comes true within a year, you fill in the other eye and keep it as a reminder of the goal you achieved. We purchased these from the original factory and shrine in Takasaki, but you can find them in most souvenir stores as well.
Finally, here are a few magnets that I bought for my fridge collection. The smaller ones were around 200 to 300Yen ($2 to $3) and the large/3D ones were around 500Yen ($5).
I recommend heading to Akihabara souvenir stores and shopping around – prices can change depending on the store. If you visit different prefectures, you might also find region-inspired magnets, like Mt. Fuji, temples, or the specialty food items.
That’s it for today’s souvenir/omiyage post (Phew)! What are your favorite souvenirs from the post? Would you try one of those kuro tamago black eggs? Seeya next time!
Note! Some of the products mentioned in this post have affiliate links. If you purchase something (I see you eyeing those Kit Kats ), I get a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. This money keeps me going on more adventures – thank you for your support!