25 Cheap Japanese Souvenir Ideas

Carey Finn

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.

japanese souvenirs
Too pretty to eat! | Photo by Dee used under CC

Japanese Sweets

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.

Keyrings

A go-to souvenir the world over, keyrings 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 keyrings of Japanese mascots and symbols, as well as popular characters like Hello Kitty. You’ll find keyrings unique to certain tourist areas. Adaptations include things to dangle from your phone or bag.

Some of the unusual KitKat flavours available in Japan.
Some of the unusual Kit Kat flavours available in Japan. | Photo by jpellgen used under CC

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 too.


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Origami Paper

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.

Chopsticks

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.

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Hand towels hung up at a Japanese kindergarten.
Hand towels hung up at a Japanese kindergarten. | Photo by Timothy Takemoto used under CC

Hand Towels

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.

Tissues

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?

Instant Ramen

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.

Donki costumes that will make your friends love you forever. Or possibly disown you.
Donki costumes that will make your friends love you forever. Or possibly disown you. | Photo by Todd Mecklem used under CC

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.



Bath Salts

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.

A selection of green tea.
A selection of green tea. | Photo by Christian Kaden used under CC

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).

Snazzy fans. Not likely to be free.
Snazzy fans. Not likely to be free. | Photo by Nicola Albertini used under CC

Paper Fans

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.

Pottery

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.



Postcards

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.

Cool Facepacks

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.

Kimonos

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.

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The best of both: Hello Kitty furikake.
The best of both: Hello Kitty furikake. | Photo by Kimli used under CC

Furikake

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.

Booze

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?

Gold Sprinkles

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.

Toilet seats of the future.
Toilet seats of the future. | Photo by Danny Choo used under CC

A Washlet

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.

Your Stories

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.

Cupmen keeping your noodles closed while they cook.
Cupmen keeping your noodles closed while they cook. | Photo by iyoupapa used under CC

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.

Got any other ideas for cheapo-friendly souvenirs? Post them in the comments.

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One Response to “25 Cheap Japanese Souvenir Ideas”

  1. I know it’s not STRICTLY cheapo, but as an alternative to getting bulky items, or multiple items because “a pair pf chopsticks isn’t really enough is it?” I also like to get a really weird piece of plastic food. A piece of toast with a bite taken out (300 yen) or a bottle of Lamune spilling on the counter (700 yen) make hilarious gifts. Nobody will even think they could be cheap, and unlike chopsticks and keyrings, plastic food is difficult to find outside Japan, so it’s fairly unique.

    Or, I also like to get gachapon. People love that sh*t.


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