April 16, 2007
by Masaki Fukushima; Mamiko Tsunai
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for such a long time that a lot of temples and shrines still remain here. Now Kyoto is very famous as a sightseeing city. And indeed, various souvenirs are sold in Kyoto, because many tourists from other parts of Japan, and from foreign countries, come here every year. There are numerous souvenir shops in the eastern part of Kyoto city, for example lining the way to Kiyomizu Temple. Of course, souvenirs are sold at other sightseeing places, like Nijo Castle, Kyoto Station or Arashiyama, to name just a few.
Traditional Industrial Arts
Since Kyoto was the center of Japan’s culture for more than a millennium, there are many traditional handiworks here. Some of them are sold as souvenirs. Here are some examples:
Sensu is a folding Japanese fan. Fans are also called uchiwa in Japanese, but that word refers to the flat, round paper fans. Sensu sounds more cultural and high-grade than uchiwa. They are often elaborately painted and decorated with silver or gold foil. If you want to buy a fan, we recommend you to buy a sensu folding fan. (They are also more portable.)
Kimono are beautiful ankle length Japanese traditional clothes which are generally made of silk. They are seldom worn as daily clothing nowadays, but Japanese still wear them for special occasions like weddings or other ceremonies. Silk kimono can be expensive, so you have to think well before purchasing, but some shops in Kyoto specialize in fine used kimono at reasonable prices. Yukata are cotton summer kimono, and they are much more affordable.
Hashi are what we call chopsticks. Since Japanese and Chinese foods are more and more eaten all over the world, foreigners who buy hashi as Kyoto souvenirs are increasing. Japanese hashi are much shorter and more tapered than Chinese chopsticks. Kyoto shops offer a very wide range of them to fit every budget.
Kyoto also offers a lot of foods for souvenirs. Here are some examples:
Yatsuhashi are the most famous culinary souvenirs of Kyoto. Baked, they are biscuits made from rice powder, cinnamon and sugar. Raw (nama yatsuhashi), they are a soft confection which is most commonly wrapped around a filling of red bean paste, but recently various new fillings have appeared, so you can enjoy a lot of tastes.
Tsukemono are Japanese pickles made from daikon radishes, cucumbers, turnips, eggplants, cabbage and many other vegetables. Because Japanese people enjoy tsukemono with rice, and sometimes with tea or other drinks, they are famous as souvenirs. Kyoto has an astonishing variety of tsukemono and most of them are salted. There are so many shops where you can try them (usually free samples are offered), so please try.
Comparing Japanese and Foreigners’ Souvenirs
Foods are the most popular souvenirs among Japanese tourists in Kyoto. Every kind sells well, and the droves of young students who come to Kyoto on school trips all buy foods as souvenirs. Foreign visitors need to be careful, however, because many souvenir foods are perishable and have an expiration date.
Traditional industrial arts are the most popular among foreigners. Besides the items mentioned above, frames, teacups and ornaments are popular. And for visitors who are from non-Asian countries, it is so curious to see kanji (Chinese characters), and since they are attracted by kanji, they often buy goods which feature Japanese words, for example T-shirts, handkerchiefs and teacups.
Recently, sushi-shaped key rings or candles are also popular among foreign tourists!
Come to the Source
Japanese foods are spreading all over the world, and Japanese animation and comic books are also popular worldwide. Partly for these reasons, the number of tourists visiting Kyoto is rising every year. At the same time, souvenirs for them are increasing. You can buy some of these items on the Internet but it is far more exciting to come to Kyoto yourself, to see them with your own eyes and buy what you like, rather than by looking at pictures on the computer screen. Nowadays, the shops whose staff speak English are increasing, so if you don’t speak Japanese, you can still enjoy shopping. If you have never been to Kyoto before, please come. And after you enjoy your trip, please bring Kyoto’s souvenirs back to your country. We are looking forward to seeing you here.