Most of us can say that when we travel abroad, shopping is one of the most enjoyable experiences we have along the way. This is absolutely true in the lovely city of Tokyo where tradition and history meet, offering travelers surprising products, beautiful clothing, and tasty treats.
If you’re planning to bring home gifts for family and friends, think outside the norm and opt for the unique. You and your family will be delighted by the wide range of uniquely Japanese gifts you find.
Some of the most iconic Japanese imagery features woman in kimonos with flowers in their hair, a teapot in hand, and cherry trees blooming in the background. And while you can’t capture the full look of this moment through a purchase -- unless you’re buying art -- you can bring home an authentic version of the central element of the motif: a kimono.
If you just want a simple, lightweight kimono, you can choose a cotton one that will typically run between $40 and $80 USD. Wool kimonos run closer to $100 to $150 in most shops, and the traditional informal silk kimono will cost around $250. Elaborate formal kimonos made of high-end silk will cost $800 or more.
You can shop for kimonos in dedicated kimono shops or drop into secondhand stores like Mode Off, which has locations around Tokyo, for bargain prices. For an authentic and accessible Kimono shop -- complete with tea ceremony opportunities -- you’ll want to visit Kimono Sakaeya.
Traditional Tea Ware
Japanese pottery and ceramics have a certain mystique and charm to them that you won’t find in the typical china available in the States. The uniquely shaped teapots, sake bottles, and other pieces that you’ll find around Tokyo are treasures you won’t regret bringing home.
Of particular interest will be both the tea set -- a teapot and teacups -- and matcha bowls and whisks. These beautiful pieces come in a variety of styles, colors, and designs, and come from a long line of Korean and Japanese pottery-making traditions that date back to before the 15th century, when Korean artisans were brought to Japan for their pottery work.
If you want to bring home a full matcha and Japanese tea making set, you’ll have to assemble several items. A chawan is the matcha or tea bowl in which the tea is whisked. You’ll also need a furui, or tea sifter, which is made especially for sifting matcha. Next, you’ll need the chasen, or tea whisk, which is made of bamboo. Finally, you’ll want the teapot and cups themselves. Often the teapots have a curved bamboo handle and come with sets of four small cups, neatly packaged as a single unit.
You’ll find good prices for any of these items at a variety of locations, including local supermarkets and tea stores. These will be more straight-forward models, though, so if you want a modern set, try Hakusan Shop in Minato City. Or, if you like the more traditionally elegant styles, you can find them in department stores. You can also find a variety of styles in the many shops along Kappabashi-dori, a street in Tokyo that’s known as Kitchen Town.
If you love authentic dining experiences, a set of genuine Japanese chopsticks will bring a little of that feeling home with you. You can find chopsticks of all styles in Tokyo, ranging from the basic bamboo design to intricately decorated pairs that look almost too good to eat with.
Since most chopstick sets aren’t too expensive, you can purchase a few extras as gifts for folks you might forget to buy something for specifically. Get different styles and colors to ensure you’ll have something that will suit everyone back home.
You’ll find chopsticks all over the city, but the best places to find memorable pairs will be in shops like Hyozaemon Chopsticks Specialty Shop. You can find less expensive pairs at markets, restaurant supply stores in Kitchen Town, and in almost every souvenir shop you come across in the city.
Japanese-Style Paper Goods
Washi, or traditional Japanese paper products, feature some of the most beautiful paper designs in the world. The pages come in a wide range of patterns and designs. You can visit traditional Japanese stationery stores to find some of the pages to bring home in a roll, or you can opt for washi cards or printer paper. You can also find artwork made from washi available at souvenir shops and small boutiques.
To find a huge selection of washi, visit Tokyo Kyukyodo or Ginza Itoya Hontren for huge selections of washi and other Japanese stationery, gift envelopes, handicrafts, seasonal products, and more.
Visiting supermarkets and drugstores in another country is always an interesting cultural experience. And for the beauty product aficionado, this rings especially true in Japan. Go into the nearest drugstore you can find and you’ll discover incredibly priced high-quality cosmetics you’ll be eager to bring home for yourself, your daughter, and your best friend. Mascara, eyeliner, face wash, sunscreen, lipstick -- it’s all affordable and incredibly high-quality.
Matsumoto KiYoshi comes especially recommended by shoppers. Lip balms, deodorants, eyelash essence, sleep masks, skin conditioners, lotions -- they’re all worth looking into, even if you don’t know the brand that well. Just pull out your phone and do a quick search on anything you’re not sure about.
Matcha may be a trendy drink that’s been gaining popularity in the United States in the past decade or so, but its history goes back nearly a thousand years to when Japan was ruled by Shogun clans from the 7th to 10th centuries. As the tea ceremonies and traditions grew out of the tea brick era of the age into what we now know as matcha -- carefully selected and cured tea leaves pulverized into a fine powder -- we’ve come into a new world of tea.
You can find matcha tea powder in many places all over the country of Japan for significantly less than you’d pay for it almost anywhere in the States. You’ll also find other products that use matcha in them for flavoring. Matcha Kit Kats, matcha mochi -- a ball of ice cream covered in sweetened rice dough -- and matcha chocolates are only a few of the many delectable snacks and treats you’ll find made with matcha.
Many gift stores sell matcha products to tourists, but you’ll find the best prices -- if not the prettiest packages -- at local grocery stores and markets.
Japanese kitchen knives are famously among the absolute best in the world. The uber-sharp blades, sturdy handles, and beautiful craftsmanship make them a long-lasting souvenir. But, as with practically everything else that’s imported, they’ll be much less expensive to purchase in Japan where they’re more readily available.
You can shop for these stunning knives in many locations around the city, but Kitchen Town is a great place to start, especially if you’re hunting the lowest prices. Kama Asa comes highly recommended by shoppers. The friendly, English-speaking staff will assist you with your questions and show you which knives are best for what kind of cooking and cutting.
In case you don’t know, towels are a fairly significant aspect of Japanese hospitality culture. From the oshibori, the hand towel used before eating, to the sento, a typical bathhouse towel, you’ll see these impeccable cotton rectangles everywhere you go.
The city of Imabari, southwest of Tokyo on Shikoku island, is known as the mecca of Japanese towel making. The climate of the area, combined with the incredibly pure waters of the river that runs through it, is said to bring out the softness of the cotton grown there. The city has been leading the industry for 120 years.
In Tokyo, you can find these plush, soft towels at the Imabari Towel Minami-Aoyama store.
What gift collection from Japan would be complete without a few bottles of fine sake? Japan is known for brewing, distilling, and curating some of the finest liquors in the world, and that includes traditional Japanese sake.
Sake is a moderately boozy drink that practically every sushi establishment in the world serves as an option for pairing with nori-wrapped seafood goodness. It’s the national beverage of Japan -- a fermented rice wine that’s been around since at least the eighth century.
You’ll find the best sakes available at some unusual places, including the sake vending machines of Tokyo Shoten or the Suzuki Sake Store. Recommended sakes to try at these sip-and-buy stops include offerings from Ishikawa Brewery, Ozawa Brewery, Kamenoi Brewing Company, and Mitobe Sake Brewery.
Traveling to Tokyo? Check out where to stay in Tokyo: our neighborhood guide, and don’t miss these six places to take an amazing photo in (and around) Tokyo. Make time for the five best day trips outside of Tokyo and these 10 great free things to do outdoors in (and around) Tokyo.