① Tokyo: Karinto (Traditional Japanese Sweet Snacks)
If you've never tried them, karinto are sugary, crunchy little sweets that are hard to stop eating! They carry all the hallmarks of the most addictively delicious snacks: Dough-based? Yep. Deep-fried? You bet! Traditionally coated in brown sugar? Yeah, our mouths are watering just thinking about them.
You can get cheap bags of standard karinto in convenience stores and supermarkets all over Japan, but we recommend you stop by Nihonbashi Nishiki Horin in Tokyo to get some for your friends. Not only are these some really classy karinto, the shop also makes specialty versions in all sorts of interesting and unique flavors. Brown sugar might be the standard, but Nihonbashi Nishiki Horin offers everything from seasonal cherry-blossom flavor, to savory veggie-flavored varieties.
- The packaging at Nihonbashi Nishiki Horin (日本橋錦豊琳) is nice enough that you can just give the bags to your friends as-is.
- If you did want to gift the most traditional variety of karinto, of course they make those too.
② Osaka: Butaman (Succulent Pork Buns from 551 Horai), Plus Glico Snacks
The pork buns at 551 Horai are so popular that they sell 150,000 of them a day. Yeah, they're that good. You can buy one piping hot to eat then and there, or get a few in a box to eat later that day. They even sell them frozen, and will ship them for you! Unfortunately, they don't do international shipping at this point, so you can only get them shipped to another part of Japan. Maybe someday we'll be able to enjoy these glorious pork buns in any country...
But in the meantime, that's not all you'll find in Osaka!
- You might recognize this guy's face, and his pose, from a certain famous billboard.
- Pork buns really aren't your only option.
These days Glico manufactures sweets and snacks on a huge international scale, but back in 1919 the company started small in Osaka. Buying Glico snacks where it all started just feels more special than anywhere else in Japan. Plus, you'll find some specialty Glico souvenirs only available in the Osaka area, which are perfect to bring home to any friends who love the Glico running man.
Not sure where to shop for Glico stuff? Try Shinsaibashi
③ Hokkaido: Potato Snacks!
Hokkaido is famous for having lush farms, which leads to excellent dairy, but also really delicious potatoes! (And trying to take home a bottle of milk seems like a bad idea.) Bringing high-quality potato snacks home, you're unlikely to get many complaints. Who doesn't want to eat potato chips? Especially ~fancy Hokkaido potato chips~?
- Hokkaido produces 78% of the potatoes grown in Japan!
- If you're looking something a little less run of the mill, these individually-packaged potato sticks will bring a smile to anyone's face.
④ Okinawa: Purple Sweet Potato Tarts
Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido might be where you'll find the majority of Japan's everyday spuds, but go all the way south to Okinawa, and it's a treasure trove of purple sweet potatoes! These sweet potatoes are turned into sweets and snacks of all kinds, but the most popular by far are little tartlets filled with a swirl of bright purple sweet potato filling.
- You'll find these all over the Okinawa islands.
- The potatoes are naturally intensely purple, lending kind of a magical feel to the already delicious process of stuffing them in your face.
The little pastries are often packaged individually (in robust boxes), making it easy to chuck them in your bag for a few days and then deliver one to each of your friends. If you do want a little variety, they also make versions with the yellow sweet potato that's a little more common in Japan (and a little more similar to what you'll find in the west). The yellow ones might be a little less startling, but the sweet potato tarts in two colors right next to each other are definitely an impressive sight.
A while ago we went on a big summer trip to Okinawa, and brought home lots of the tarts. Read about it all right here
⑤ The Rest of Japan: Chiba, Hiroshima, Ibaraki, Yamagata
From Hiroshima, we recommend momiji manju, traditional cakes shaped like maple leaves and stuffed with a variety of fillings (most often red bean or custard). They're mostly available on Miyajima, around Itsukushima Shrine. Momiji manju are a souvenir triple threat: delicious, affordable, and adorable!
If you want a local product that comes in a few different forms, though, you can always look for the many souvenirs made with Setouchi lemons. We've rhapsodized about how good they are before
When you travel to see a mountain, you're going to want mountain-themed snacks! So of course you'll find "Tsukuba-san Yaki" cakes at Mount Tsukuba, in Ibaraki Prefecture
. They're a little like filled pancakes, with a satisfying dollop of red bean in the center, and shaped like the mountain itself.
It might be a little silly to plan a trip solely around the souvenirs you want to bring home to your family and friends, but we hope this article has given you some idea of what tasty options are available! Bringing back snacks is a great way to give your loved ones a (literal) taste of the fun experience you had away from home, so do as the Japanese do, and return with snacks for everyone to enjoy. (You can even follow the Japanese example and really endear your coworkers to you by bringing a big box of little edible souvenirs to the office to share!)
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