Unique Souvenirs in Kyoto

January 18, 2017

by Sachina Matsumoto, Shin Okano & Kyosuke Maruyama

Kyoto is a traditional city in Japan. It has a lot of history and culture. Kyoto is one of Japan’s leading tourist destinations. As a result, the souvenir culture has prospered in particular. And when it comes to souvenirs, Kyoto can be said to have more tradition than other prefectures. In this article, we will introduce souvenirs that are uniquely Kyoto-style.

Kyoto Souvenirs You Can Eat

The culture of sweets in Kyoto has grown remarkably over the years. Visitors to Kyoto can choose from a wide variety of edible souvenirs to enjoy and take home with them. Below are some of the most popular.

Yatsuhashi

Perhaps the most famous edible souvenir in Kyoto is yatsuhashi, which is a traditional kind of rice cracker that is classified as a type of confectionery due to its chewy, sweet flavor. It is made with rice flour, sugar, and cinnamon, which results in a sweet dough that is stretched thinly and cut into different shapes. It can either be baked or eaten raw. The baked form is like a hard, sweet rice cracker. The raw form is soft and is often wrapped around red bean paste.

In 1689, during the Edo period, yatsuhashi was first served at the teashop in Kurodani temple, on the east side of Kyoto city. In the Meiji era (From 1868 to 1912), yatsuhashi became very popular and was sold at Kyoto Station. After the Second World War, raw yatsuhashi was invented, and in modern times this raw version is more popular that the original.

A lot of people who visit Kyoto will buy yatsuhashi. There are also a lot of varieties visitors can buy, such as green tea, white sesame, cherry blossoms, chocolate, blueberry, and so on. Tourists can purchase yatsuhashi in sightseeing spots, major train stations, or specialty shops.

Konpeito

The next edible souvenir is called konpeito. It is a colorful, sugary hard candy. The word ‘konpeito’ originally comes from Portuguese. It also has a long history. The way of making this candy was introduced to Japan in the 1600s by Portuguese traders. In 1847, Senkichi Shimizu began a konpeito specialty shop in Kyoto. For many generations, the Shimizu family has perfected the art of making konpeito.

Konpeito is made with simple ingredients: sugar, water, and some flavoring. The candy made by slowing covering a grain of coarse sugar with syrup in a large, rotating gong-shaped tub. It is a slow process, taking 1 or 2 weeks to make a batch of konpeito.

There are now many flavors of konpeito that tourists can buy, such as strawberry, peach, mandarin, apples, giant pine, vanilla, natural water cider cherries, yogurt, coconut, ripe mango, roasted chestnut, muscat, and so on. The flavors are often subtle, not strong.

Like yatsuhashi, konpeito can be found in sightseeing spots or specialty shops throughout Kyoto. But perhaps the best place to buy it is from the original source: the Shimizu family at their shop called Ryokujuan Shimizu, near Kyoto University.

Tsukemono

Another edible souvenir from Kyoto is tsukemono, a word which means ‘picked vegetables’. Japanese people eat tsuekmono with many of their meals.

Kyoto’s tsukemono has a long history and has been a part of the Japanese diet for a long time. The roots of tsukemono are not exactly clear. However, many believe that tsukemono originally came from China.

The land around Kyoto is rich, so it is a place that can produce quality vegetables. For this reason, there are many kinds of vegetables to be pickled. In fact, there are more than 800 kinds of pickles in Japan. Most kinds are made with vegetables such as cabbage, white radish, or eggplant. The taste changes according to different factors, such as time, environment, weather and soil conditions, and so on.

And there are various pickling methods such as with salt, bran, and vinegar. Tsukemono can taste sour or salty or both. It depends on the vegetable used and the pickling method.

Most people like tsukemono. It is very tasty, healthy, and colorful. It goes very well with many Japanese dishes and is often served with everyday meals. You can buy tsukemono in most supermarkets and souvenir stores.

Non-Edible Souvenirs

Furoshiki

Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth. ‘Furo’ means bath, while ‘shiki’ means cloth. In old days, Japanese used to wrap their pajamas with furoshiki.

The history of furoshiki goes back 1,200 years. Furoshiki were widely used until the end of the Edo Period. During the Nara Period (710-784), furoshiki were customarily used for keeping valuables. The oldest wrapping cloth used in the Nara Period is now in safe keeping at the Shosoin, a wooden storage house at the famous Todaiji-temple in Nara.

While older furoshiki are fairly bland in appearance, modern forms are very stylish and elegant. Designers use auspicious patterns that transmit a historical feeling of Japan.

These days, Japanese people use furoshiki to wrap a gift, like wine, for example. Also, they use furoshiki when wrapping lunch box.

One place where you can buy furoshiki is a store called Kakefuda. This store offers many stylish patterns. If you just want normal Furoshiki, you can get them at most souvenir shops.

Tabi

Tabi is a traditional Japanese type of sock, originally from the 15th century. They have a separation between the big toe and other toes. Tabi are suitable for wearing with Kimono or other types of traditional clothing. Tabi are worn by both men and women, with sandals like zori or geta, and other thonged outer footwear. Even construction workers wear them with boots on the job.

You can buy tabi at most souvenir shops in Kyoto. However, a shop called SOU SOU has more stylish Tabi.

SOU SOU: 583-3, Nakanocho, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 604-8042, Japan

Swords

What we commonly call the Japanese sword originated in the Heian period. That’s why Japanese swords are so famous in Kyoto. You can buy Japanese swords in any souvenir shops. They are great for interior decoration. Indeed, many Japanese style houses have traditional swords hanging on the wall. If tourists prefer, they can buy Japanese sword-shape umbrellas instead of a sword itself. You can usually find them in souvenir shops, and occasionally convenience stores.

Nanaco Plus+ Souvenirs

Finally, one unique type of souvenir from Kyoto is made of real candy and covered with resin. The candy looks delicious and has a very bright color. You can buy these at a store called Nanaco Plus+. Not only do they sell key rings, but also other things, such as earphone jacks, earrings, and so on. Most of these souvenirs are priced between 540 and 5,400 yen.As you can see, Kyoto is a city with various charms.

Kyoto is very attractive not only for scenery but also for food, festivals, and souvenirs. I think that we should know about Kyoto more, and inform other people who don’t know about the charm of Kyoto. I will be happy if you read this article and you are interested in Kyoto.

Kompeito

by Hosoda Eri, Okugawa Akane, Matsuura Rina

What is Kompeito?

Kompeito is a traditional Japanese sweet, which was introduced to Japan from Portugal in 1546 Because it was foreign, it became a very popular candy. The origin of the word ‘kompeito’ comes from the Portuguese word ‘confeitos’.  Originally, kompeito was eaten in wedding ceremonies in Portugal. Kompeito was given to the Japanese by missionaries, and it is said that the Japanese aristocracy were so surprised at the form and taste. It was an unusually precious candy to them. However, the manufacturing methods of the Kompeito was kept a secret.

Since that time, konpeito has been used in Japan as party favors or commemorative gifts for various occasions by the Imperial Family. In addition, it is has been used for sweets in the tea ceremony room and it for making cakes for children.

Generally, konpeito is said to be pretty, and it comes in various colors, for example: pink, yellow, orange, light blue, purple, white, green, and so on. It’s shape is irregular, and regardless of the color of each candy, the taste is generally the same. Traditionally, kompeito tasted like plain sugar, but nowadays, there are dozens of different flavors, such as fruit and cider to name a few.

These colorful and star like candies are still often made by hand, and the ingredients are simple: sugar, water and food coloring. Kompeito takes approximately 16-20 days to make. There is no special recipe for making kompeito, so manufacturing methods vary greatly. This results in differences in appearance and taste, according to the manufacturer. Also, the kompeito creators cannot make the same taste every year, because the humidity and temperature of the air is always changing. This means that no kompeito maker can manufacture the same kompeito for life.

Ryokujuan Shimizu

There is one store in Kyoto that specializes in making and selling kompeito. When making kompeito, they focus specifically on color, form, and flavor. Since the shop is much smaller than a common shop, customers must stand in line outside in wait to get in to purchase their kompeito during busy times. Of course, the taste is very delicious, but the product varies according to the season. However, advance orders are sometimes necessary.

The History of Ryokujuan Shimuzu

Ryokujuan was original founded in 1847. Senkichi Shimizu was the original founder started the business in the Hyakumanben area of Eastern Kyoto. He passed on the business to his son, Shotaro Shimizu, and he in turn passed it on to the third generation, Isamu Shimizu, who began to make cinnamon and tea flavored kompeitou. The fourth generation son, Seiichi Shimizu, began experimenting with the kompeitou making process using various types of materials. Then, in the fifth and current generation, Yasuhiro Shimizu, is making approximately 50 kinds of kompeitou now.

In the old days, they used coal to make a smokeless fire to make the kompeito. For this reason, it took two months to make just one type. Over the years, successive generations built upon the flavor and materials, resulting in an increase in variety of form, luster, and difference in taste. This exemplifies the handmade quality of craftsman ship for which Ryokujuan is famous.

Kompeito Products at Ryokujuan

Ryokujuan Shimizu offers its customers flavors of every kind, such as chocolate, tea, caramel, wine, brandy, nihonshu, perilla leaf, ume, yuzu, ginger, Japanese pepper, and more. Konpeitou at Ryukujuan is different from those of other stores. Especially delicious is their Black Sesame flavor – a taste of natural luxury: not too sweet, yet with hints of the aroma of roasting beans. It costs is 760 yen per bag.

Ryokujuan makes kompeitou in accordance with the change of seasons. For example, cherry blossom flavor is sold in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom. Also, mango and watermelon flavors are sold in the summer, when those fruits are ripe and ready to eat. Furthermore, the taste of Japanese chestnut, black soybean, and sweet potato are sold in the fall, when those vegetables are ready to eat. In this way, Ryokujuan offers many different options to customers who visit their shop. Here are some more examples:

Types of Kompeito at Ryokujuan

  • Chocolate (February – Valentines Day)
  • Caramel Arare (March – White day)
  • Brandy (June – Father’s day)
  • Ume Liqueur (July – Bon Festival)
  • Sake (November – Year-end Gift)
  • Vone Romanevan Rouge (December – Christmas)
  • Bean (January – Setsubun)

Seasonal Kompeito

January: Ume Arare
February: Peach Arare
March: Cherry blossom
April: Cherry
May: Blueberry
June: Yoghurt
July: Mango
August: Coconut
September: Lychee
October: Black soybean
November: Muscat/Chinese Quince
December: Pumpkin

Ryokujuan also sells cases to store kompeito. If you use one of these cases, you can store kompeito for a very long time. In fact, Ryokujuan has some kompeito from about 50 years ago. The staff says that you cannot eat it, even though its smell and color have not changed.

Have you heard of Kiyomizuyaki? Kiyomizuyaki is a type of traditional pottery in Kyoto, which comes from the Kiyomizu temple area in the Eastern part of the city. Kompeito cases in the Kiyomizuyaki style are also sold at Ryokujuan. To our regret, we were not allow to photograph any. However you can check it on Ryokujuan’s homepage.

One set of cases costs 22,000 yen, and just as a souvenir, so it is rather luxurious and expensive.

So with all of the delicious kompeito and unique storage cases, why don’t you visit Ryokujuan when you come to Kyoto?

Access to Ryokujuan

Ryokujuan is located close to Kyoto University in Sakyo Ward. Business hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By Bus

Take bus #17 from Kyoto Station. Get off at the Hyakumanben stop. From there it is a 2-minute walk. Alternatively, take bus #206 from the Gion area. Get off at the Hyakumanben stop. From there it is a 5-minute walk.

By Train

(Keihan train) get off at the Demachiyanagi stop. From there it is a 10 minutes walk.

Address:

〒606-8301
Kyoto city sakyo-ku yoshida izumidencho 38-2
Telephone: 075-771-0755
Fax: 075-771-0766

http://www.konpeito.co.jp/

Amezaiku

by Chiho Inaba, Yukari Maruoka, and Airi Ishikawa

History

Chitose Candy from Kyoto

There are a lot of cultural items in Kyoto that can boast a history of 1,000 years or more, and Amezaiku is one of them. Basically, Amezaiku is sugar sculpture, or the art of producing artistic centerpieces composed entirely of sugar and sugar like ingredients. Originally, Amezaiku was made as an offering for when To-ji Temple was erected in Kyoto in the Heian era. The Amezaiku we see today are often very beautiful, but the first kinds were actually very simple, using only the colors red and white. The craftsmen who made this candy brought it from China, and this meant Amezaiku was one of the true spectacles of the time. Later, the production and visual appeal of Amezaiku made it a form of entertainment for the common people of the Edo era.

The candy craftsmen who settled in Kyoto made a kind of Otafuku candy, known as Kintaro candy. This type of candy had the face of Kintaro imposed on it throughout its length. This meant, when a section of the round stick of candy was cut off, Kintaro’s face was exposed. These craftsmen put all their ingenuity into their work and made various-shaped Amezaiku figures to peddle around the town of Kyoto. The candy craftsman came to Edo in the Edo era, and the specialization of candy workmanship was born. The daily sales of candy would often require up to 36 liters of starch syrup a day, and the candy makers of old came to be recognized as fully-fledged craftsmen. It was extremely hard work to prepare the candy every day, as each morning they had to make a fire, boil the starch syrup and then let it cool down. Before the syrup cooled completely, they would have to then knead it and shape it into the small candy pieces.

When a candy craftsman got old, and this hard labor was no longer possible for him, he made elaborate plans to peddle candy in various forms in the downtown area. Nowadays, there are some craftsmen who make a show of shaping candy figures as a kind of street performance on the side of the road, which they then try to sell. In addition, Amezaiku has now gained a real reputation as an art form in foreign countries. Therefore, from this point on we would like to explain Amezaiku as one of the Japanese traditional arts.

Kyoto Candy

There are so many kinds of candy in Kyoto it is impossible to show them all, so we will introduce just a few kinds here.

Kompeito

Kompeito is usually a very small candy 5 to 10 mm long, but it takes about 1 or 2 weeks to make and is still handmade even today. Kompeito are also sometimes used as an emergency provision because they are made from sugar, and therefore can provide a lot of calories. Moreover, it is said that they can have the effect of reducing stress when a disaster happens because they are colorful and make people happy. There are a number of flavors to choose from, including brandy, Calpis, chocolate, and more recently tea. The bright colors of this candy make it very popular among children and also foreign tourists.

Chitose Candy

Chitose candy is given to children at the time of Shichi-Go-San. This important event involves praying for growth and health at a Shinto shrine for “Three-year-old boy and girls, five-year-old boys, and seven-year-old girls” on November 15th each year, and the ceremony itself is a symbolic act of purification. The original Chitose candy was a long, thin, red and white candy, which symbolizes healthy growth and longevity.

Recently, there are various shapes of Chitose candy on offer, and among them is Kintaro candy with the image of a popular character’s face running through it. Moreover, Chitose candy is now available in many convenience stores, so you can buy it easily when the time for Shichi-Go-San comes around.

Visual Treats

These days, more and more visual treats made from candy are available such as Bentos (lunch boxes) and sushi, and they look really real. In these treats, the rice is kompeito dyed pink, the red beans are represented by handmade candy, and even the salt and sesame are made from a small kind of kompeito. These authentic looking and truly genuine items make fantastic souvenirs, and the person who receives them is sure to be surprised and delighted.

Hiyashiame and Ameyu

Hiyashiame

In English, ‘hiyashi’ means cold and ‘ame’ means candy, so you may imagine a candy which is iced. You would, however, be wrong. In Japan, this is a popular drink, particularly in the Kansai area. The roots of it are not clearly known, but the word began to appear in either the Taisho or Showa eras. The biggest feature of this drink is the use of ginger and starch syrup. On long, hot summer days, it is good to drink Hiyashiame to refresh yourself. The ginger in the drink is also extremely stimulating.

Ameyu

In English, yu means hot water, so ameyu means hot Hiyashiame. In some stores, they serve ameyu to people who come in shivering from swimming in the sea or river. Their bodies have gotten cold and they drink the ameyu to warm themselves up. Thanks to the ginger, they can feel the warmth right to their bones.

How To Make Hiyashiame

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • Starch syrup 120g
  • Sugar 3 tablespoons
  • Water 400ml
  • Tea 1 × large teabag
  • Ginger root 3 pieces

Instructions:
1. Wash the ginger in clear water and wipe dry. Slice up 2 of the pieces and grate and squeeze the juice from the other.

2. Put the sliced ginger, sugar, water and starch syrup in a pot, and heat over a medium flame. After bringing to the boil, turn down the heat and leave to simmer for one minute. Take off the heat and place the teabag in the pot. When the color becomes to your liking, remove the teabag.

3. Remove the sliced ginger and pour in the ginger juice. Immerse the bottom of the pot in iced water and cool right down. When the drink has cooled enough, place it in the refrigerator.

In the old days Hiyashiame was sold in a cup and people enjoyed it at the store. However, Hiyashiame is now available in bottles, so you can buy it from a vending machine. In short, you can enjoy Hiyashiame far more easily now.

As we have introduced, there are many individualistic candies in Kyoto. We have also heard that most temples have their own unique candies, but we don’t have enough space to show them here. It may be interesting to try and find these candies on your own. We hope you find your own special items and through this become more familiar with Kyoto