Everybody wants to go to Japan— it’s one of the world’s most captivating and interesting holiday destinations. From technology to fashion to food to quirky everyday items, Japan is miles ahead of the world. Deciding on what to buy in Japan can be tricky because there’s so much variety.
This guide makes it easier. Here is Part 1 of 2 of our island-by-island guide to the best souvenirs and gifts to buy in Japan (besides matcha-anything). It covers what to buy from Hokkaido and what to buy from Honshu.
For a travel calendar, have a look at our 2023 holiday planner. For the best luggage to travel with, check out our luggage buying guide.
What to buy in Japan from Hokkaido (Capital: Sapporo)
Almost certainly Hokkaido’s most famous export is the delectable cookie Shiroi Koibito. The name translates to ‘white lover’— take that as you will but there is no denying that this half-century-old creation is a cut above. Once you have tried it, just the sight of the iconic packaging will make your mouth water.
The original consists of white chocolate between light langue de chat cookies. They have also released Shiroi Koibito Black, which replaces the white chocolate with milk chocolate.
Yubari Melon Steam Cake
Japan’s northernmost island is also its coldest and that unique weather makes for good farming. One of Hokkaido’s most famous fruits is the juicy, nectar-sweet Yubari melon. Carrying back whole melons isn’t quite practical but you have the next best thing, the Yubari Melon Steam Cake.
This amazing light sponge cake with the sweetest of creamy fillings is one of the most desirable confectionaries. Incredibly soft and made from fresh Yubari melons, they will leave a lasting impression for the rest of your life.
You may also want to try a frozen Yubari melon treat in the form of the Futaba Yubari Melon And Takami Melon Ice Bar.
Hokkaido Milk Castella
Another product of Hokkaido whose quality is attributed to the cooler weather is milk. Milk produced by stress-free cows gives dairy products such as Hokkaido Milk Castella their characteristically rich and sensuous texture.
The castella is originally from Portugal but few places anywhere in the world do it better than the creamy version made in Hokkaido. This wonderful soft, fluffy and incredibly moist sponge cake is gone all too soon when you open a packet.
Alcohol – Nikka & Asahi
Asahi Beer Factory produces its top 3 brews here: Asahi Super Dry, Asahi Super Dry – Dry Black and Asahi Super Dry – Dry Premium. You can try all on the guided tour (with non-alcoholic options for children). If you are a Sapporo fan, the Sapporo Beer Gardens and museum offer a similar experience.
Prefer something stronger? Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery in Otaru is where one of world’s best single malt whiskies, Nikka Whisky was born. It was founded in 1934 by the ‘father of Japanese whisky’, Taketsuru Masataka (who also had a hand in Honshu’s Yamazaki) and his Scottish wife. You can taste-test for a small fee and also buy samplers at fantastic prices.
What to buy in Japan from Honshu (Capital: Tokyo)
Honshu is Japan’s most important island and home to its capital. If you are looking for something to buy in Japan, you’re very likely to find it here.
With a pedigree rooted in the artisanal creation of samurai swords when their primary purpose was actual combat, the Japanese knife industry is widely regarded as one of the world’s best. Tokyo, which has long been the seat of power, was consequently also the centre of the fine blade industry. This is where you can find a Sakai knife, one of the most prestigious additions to any kitchen.
For the highest quality and lowest price, buy yours at the Sakai Traditional Craft Museum. It is the only place to find real handmade traditional Japanese carbon steel knives at such low prices.
There is nothing in the world quite like the spectacle of sumo. Sumo tournaments are held just 6 times a year and the atmosphere, pomp and pageantry are an unforgettable experience. Definitely keep your tickets as souvenirs but the Sumo Museum beside the sport’s biggest showcase, Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall is where you can find authentic sumo memorabilia.
One of the best is the simple pamphlet titled “The SUMO”. It costs just 100 yen (~S$1) but this A5-size 12-page full-colour official booklet is the complete guide to sumo. It contains information about the origins of the sport, its rules, a guide to read the Banzuke (rankings), and explanations of the rituals and ceremonies. Not your typical tourist-trap purchase and definitely a very unique one.
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) merchandise
Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is one of Osaka’s top attractions. Not only is there a host of unique USJ-branded memorabilia to buy, there are limited-edition stores dedicated to brands such as Snoopy and Hello Kitty.
Old-school gamers will adore Super Nintendo World and all its associated souvenirs. Another of the top attractions is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with its faithful and intricate reproductions of Hogwarts Castle, the Hogwarts Express and Hogsmeade on a magnificent scale. Of course, you can explore all that and more with the Hogwarts Legacy game out in 2023.
Alcohol – Yamazaki & Kirin
Almost a century old, the Suntory Yamazaki distillery at the base of Mount Tennozan is where the magical Yamazaki breathes its first. A tour here takes you on a journey through the whisky library that houses over 7,000 bottles of past creations. Buy a bottle to take pride of place in your home bar.
Watched over by Mt. Fuji is the Kirin Fuji-Gotemba Distillery, the birthplace of Kirin Fuji Single Grain Japanese Whiskey. That makes it easy to squeeze in a pitstop here after a day exploring the magnificent mountain. Sprawled across 155,000 sqm., this is one of the largest distilleries on the planet. Participate in the interactive tour that engages your senses of sight, smell and taste before you buy some bottles at a pretty price.
Catch us in Part 2 where we see show you the best things to buy in Japan from Kyushu and Shikoku, coming soon!
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