So you’re in Japan, doing all the awesome things and living life like it’s an anime. But your friends/family/pets/potplants want a piece of the action. They’re demanding cool things from Tokyo and surrounds. Time to do some souvenir shopping! Here are, in no particular order, 25 ideas for cute, original and just plain wacky Japanese souvenirs that won’t cost you all the yens in the world.
If you want to impress your people, get them some Japanese sweets. Traditional sweets, known as wagashi, are beautifully sculpted and use old-school ingredients like bean paste and sweet potato. They’re a great accompaniment to green tea. You can also get pre-packed boxes of slightly more modern sweets, and even random finds at the convenience store can make fun gifts. Kids dig Pocky (the chocolate sticks), and everyone gets a kick out of eating something called Collon.
A go-to souvenir the world over, key rings never fail to be awesome gifts. Unless the person you are giving them to doesn’t have keys, in which case, really, it’s their problem. You can get key rings of Japanese mascots and symbols, as well as popular characters like Hello Kitty. You’ll find key rings unique to certain tourist areas. Adaptations include things to dangle from your phone or bag.
Weird Kit Kats
Japanese Kit Kats are a taste adventure. Green tea Kit Kat, anyone? How about cheesecake flavor? Rum and raisin? Wasabi maybe? Or some prawn? They make great, inexpensive gifts and can be found at the airport or the Kit Kat Chocolatory in Ikebukuro, and a few other spots listed here, with limited flavors available at supermarkets and online too.
The colorful paper comes in packs the perfect size for travel, and can be bought for around 100 yen at Daiso, Seria and other cheap stores. Good for kids and older types alike.
A favourite souvenir, chopsticks are practical and found practically everywhere. You can pick up cheap, but legit, pairs at the 100-yen store, or opt for fancier varieties at specialist souvenir stores. You could also present the free pairs you get at restaurants.
These square little hand towels are commonly used in Japan—most people carry one around in their back pocket or handbag. They come plain or patterned and make useful presents.
Feeling stingy? Then stock up on those free packs of tissues people are forever thrusting at you on the streets of Tokyo, and give them to your friends. Some of them feature cool packaging—like anime characters, or, well, cell phone brands and ladies of the night. If your friends weep bitter tears, at least they’ve got something to dab them with, right?
Since Japan is the nation of instant noodles, why not take your friends a pack or two of ramen? You can get cups and packets at your local supermarket, sometimes for under 100 yen.
Costumes from Donki
Donki is our favorite place to buy cheapo Japanese souvenirs because of the huge range of random products they have on offer. You can get everything from green tea to gardening gloves there—and really weird fancy dress costumes and masks too. They can be a bit bulky to lug home, but they sure do elicit laughs.
You can get all sorts of interesting bath salts in Japan. We’ve come across volcanic mud, salts that contain chili and ginger and make you sweat, ones that cover you with tiny bubbles, and heaps of others that make bath time fun. Look out for the 湯 kanji on little packs and ask store staff, to make sure it isn’t tea.
This has to be one of the best souvenirs from Japan. Who doesn’t like tea? Even people who don’t like tea pretend to like Japanese tea, because it’s cultural. Grab a bag of powdered green tea (matcha, 抹茶) or a packet of loose leaf or bagged regular green tea (sencha, 煎茶) and impress your friends by instructing them how to make it (the water needs to cool for a minute or two after the kettle boils).
Like tissues, cheap versions of these things are dished out for free on the street (in the warmer months, anyway). So they may be branded with the names of random products and shops—who cares? Your friends will ooh and ah over the fancy Japanese kanji. You can also buy plain or decorated ones for reasonable prices.
Japan does pottery with style. Tea cups or bowls, serving dishes and ornamental stuff all make super gifts—as long as you bubblewrap them properly. The best place to find bargains is at a flea market.
Ah, the ultra simple and lazy souvenir that can be purchased at an airport, tourist spot, or even just printed off the internet. Go for one that shows a woodblock print, or a classic Mt. Fuji fronted by cherry blossoms and your gift buying work is done.
Ever wanted to know what your mother would look like as a kabuki actor? Or that friend of yours—you know, the one—as a panda? These souvenirs are for you. Literally, they may end up being for you. You can find designer face packs at Tokyu Hands and other swanky-ish stores. The face packs come in an array of shapes and styles.
Secondhand kimonos and yukata are large, but rather awesome gifts. Everyone loves them some vintage fashion. You can pick up good-quality secondhand ones if you know where to look.
A Tokyo Cheapo eBook
Since we have absolutely no shame, we thought we would use this opportunity to promote our splendid and ever-affordable eBook, which you can give your friends as both a gift and means of encouragement to come visit you.
If your friends like rice, take them a few packets of furikake—it’s seasoning you sprinkle on top. You can get seaweed, dried plum and other flavors they probably won’t have access to at home. This is one of the cheapest gift options out there—but they won’t know that.
Despite being a bit on the bulky side, plum wine, sake and shochu all serve as decent gifts, and can be bought for cheap too—if you go scrounging around your supermarket or convenience store. One Cup, anyone?
You can get little jars of gold flakes (containing real gold!) from Coredo for use in food, drink or rolling in—whatever tickles your fancy. These make great gifts because you look all rich and sophisticated, but they cost under 1,000 yen.
Your Leftover Coins
People have a thing for coins with holes in the middle. So be a true cheapo and get rid of your leftover 5 or 50 yen pieces by giving them to your mates as lucky charms.
Ok, so this isn’t a cheap souvenir, but it is one of the strangest (and yet most wonderful) things you could bring back from Japan. These toilet seats have temperature control, sounds, bidets and so much more. Give the gift of a glorious toilet experience to your most beloved. Go on, you know you want to.
You could always claim to have become all Zen-like and non-materialistic, and regale your loved ones with tales from your time in Japan. Throw in a photo for good measure, and you’re sorted.
Those Characters You Attach to Cups
Japan is all about quirky action figures and stuff, and recently there’s been a trend to get characters to attach to your glass, mug or even noodle cup (they keep them closed). Some of them are sleazy. Some of them are just plain weird. Most of these cupmen make unusual gifts that are well received.
Something from the 100-Yen Store
You can get a lot of the cheapo souvenirs listed above at a 100-yen store—and a whole lot more besides. Fun dish sponges, rice bowls, cups and super-useful delicate laundry bags abound. Grab a basket and go wild.
Bonus idea: For those with limited suitcase space, collect beautiful stamps from shrines and temples in a traditional Japan stamp book. Or check out this list of sustainable souvenirs for guilt-free gift giving.
Got any other ideas for cheapo-friendly souvenirs? Let us know on the community forum.