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.