Japan – the Land of the Rising Sun – is a country full of fascinating cultural sites, traditions and cuisines. But another highlight of visiting places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Sapporo is browsing the weird and wonderful souvenirs on sale.
From a whole host of unique KitKat flavours, to and slightly creepy Daruma dolls, here are eight funky and bizarre souvenirs you simply have to bring home from holidays in Japan.
Toe socks aren’t a completely unknown entity here in the UK – and you can buy them absolutely everywhere in Japan. But with a bizarre twist on the already slightly odd toe socks, you can also find socks which we can only assume have been designed for lobsters! Comprising one large toe section and one much smaller toe section, they would be ideal for keeping claws nice and toasty. Alternatively, for human use, presumably wearers will slide a big toe into one section, then remaining toes into the other. We’re not sure if this is comfy, but it’s handy if you want to rock the flip-flop and socks combo.
Reportedly modelled on the founder of Zen Buddhism, you wouldn’t expect these dolls to be creepy, but they really are! If you can get over the slightly sinister faces, they’re said to symbolise good fortune and perseverance. Intriguingly, they also come without eyes – the idea being that the owner sets themselves a goal and fills in one of the eyes, and then fills in the other when it’s been achieved.
If you’re a fan of the chocolate-covered wafer biscuits, that’s reason alone to book the next available flight to Japan. In Japanese, ‘KitKat’ is very close to a phrase meaning ‘good luck’ and, as a result, the confectionary has exploded in popularity. More than 300 flavours of KitKat have been released since the turn of the century – including limited edition and seasonal offerings – and some of the options are truly incredible. When matcha (green tea) and wasabi are pretty standard flavours, you just know there are going to be some sensational choices to bring home. Rum and raisin, red chilli, edamame, sake, cheese, red bean and even ones to bake in the oven, they all make for great gifts. In 2010, the most popular flavour was soy sauce, so there really is something for everyone!
Traditionally flown on ‘Children’s Day’ (5 May), koinobori are carp-shaped windsocks which have become increasingly popular souvenirs for foreign tourists. They are said to symbolise a bright future and are flown to wish children a happy, healthy and successful future, so actually make for a lovely gift for little ones back home.
Bread in a can
Japanese vending machines are stocked with a whole range of curious items. While in the UK we may be used to popping a pound in a vending machine for a sneaky afternoon chocolate bar or cold drink, in Japan the choices are considerably more varied. Think ramen, burgers, lingerie, rice, eggs and, somehow even more inexplicably, bread in a can. And even then, it’s not your standard loaf of Hovis. You can choose from bread with whipped cream, chocolate, raisins and various other alternatives, depending on your mood. If you don’t fancy tucking in on the spot, bread in a can makes for an interesting gift to bring home!
It’s common courtesy to bring sweets back for the office when away on holiday – but to be honest, we’re not too sure how these would go down! A slightly acquired taste (but well worth a try!), manju are Japanese rice cakes which come with a range of different fillings, but most typically red bean paste. Honestly, they’re not bad!
If you’re not keen on bringing back real food, you can share your experiences of Japanese cuisine by bringing plastic replicas home for friends and family. Well, why not! Everywhere you go in Japan, you’ll see restaurants and shops with plastic food displays bedecking the windows. Typically, this is to show foreign visitors what’s on offer, but the plastic bowls of ramen and plates of sushi have become something of an institution. Obviously, plastic souvenirs aren’t great for the environment, but you can also get your hands on alternatives like erasers – great fun for the kids’ school pencil cases.
Possibly the most famous Japanese souvenir, maneki neko – or lucky cats – are figures which can be found near the entrances of shops, hotels, restaurants and houses across the country. If the cat’s right paw is raised, it is said to attract wealth and if the left paw is raised, it is said to attract customers. The cat’s paw can also often be found moving back and forth in somewhat hypnotic fashion. As to be expected, souvenir shops are not only packed full of traditional maneki neko ornaments, but also versions on keyrings, piggy banks, stationary and a whole host of other items.
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