5 of japan's most instantly recognizable souvenir snacks
Web content written for Hikari Travel Agency, an independent travel agency specializing in Japanese travel. May 2020. < 800 Words.
To many of us, souvenirs are little trinkets we keep to remember our travels — in Japan though, souvenirs are a serious business! Returning from a trip without something to offer your friends or co-workers is culturally taboo, and some Japanese airlines even allow customers an extra checked bag just so they can haul back all their souvenirs.
This custom of giving travel-related gifts is rooted in the Japanese people’s strong sense of obligation. Travelers feel obligated to share their enjoyment with those who couldn’t make the trip, and they feel obliged to offer something as an apology to friends and coworkers who put up with their absence. A keychain or t-shirt isn’t likely to cut it though, as the Japanese prefer their souvenirs to be region-specific. In fact, the
word they use for souvenir, omiyage お土産, actually translates to “local specialty”.
The kind of souvenir counter you're likely to find at any Japanese supermarket, train station, or airport.
The Japanese were into instant shareability even before Facebook and Instagram.
Often the safest bet when buying omiyage is food, as even the smallest Japanese village has a local dish they’ve perfected over the years. Ramen, mochi, tea, noodles – anything you can eat or drink has some place in Japan that’s got it down to an art! Imagine if every U.S. state had a regional dish with the same kind of the fame as Chicago’s deep-dish pizza or Philly’s cheesesteak. Your friends would be begging you to bring back a sample, right?
The Japanese don’t have to live in fear of all this loose food making a mess in their bags, though. Omiyage always comes individually-wrapped and in perfect snack-sized portions, so it’s ready to share as soon as you pull it out of your suitcase.
Hungry to know more about Japanese omiyage? We’ve cooked up a list of 5 of the country's most famous souvenir snacks that most locals will instantly recognize. Be on the lookout for them so you can bring an authentic taste of Japan back home to your own friends and family!
Shiroi Koibito – Hokkaido
Hokkaido is famous for both its snow and its dairy industry, and these elements combine perfectly to create the delicate, creamy, white chocolate-filled goodness that is Shiroi Koibito. The name translates to “white lovers”, reminiscent of both the cookie’s color and the snow that falls in the only region where it’s available for sale. Shiroi Koibito is so well-known that it’s even inspired a spoof version in Osaka, and thousands of visitors a year flock to the cookie’s very own theme park!
Yatsuhashi – Kyoto
A product of Japan’s ancient capital, its fitting that yatsuhashi has more than 4 centuries of history behind it. Legend states that the cinnamon-flavored rice cookie was made to honor Yatsuhashi Kengyo, a 17th century musician who helped make music accessible for all classes of people. The baked variety of yatsuhashi is hard and has the shape of a curved roof tile, but confectionery shops around Kyoto also sell a triangular version that has the springy texture of mochi.
Momiji Manju – Hiroshima
Momiji is Japanese for “maple leaf,” an item many English-speakers associate with Canada. In Japan though, the iconic star-shaped foliage has been synonymous with Hiroshima since ancient times. To celebrate this connection, bakers in the region combine the leaf’s shape with a popular Japanese sweet called manju. Inside these rice flour cakes are pockets of dense, sweet bean paste, and their deep purple and red tones blend in well with the colors seen across Hiroshima’s autumn landscape.
Tokyo Banana – Tokyo
As one of the world’s largest concrete jungles, it’s only fitting that Tokyo’s official souvenir snack is fashioned after a tropical fruit. These small, fluffy sponge cakes don’t just come in banana flavor, though — depending on which travel hub you visit, you’ll be able to find Tokyo Banana in honey, maple, and even coffee flavor. Forgot to pick up a box as you left the city though? Not to worry; Tokyo Banana’s reach is so wide that it can be found in airports and train stations across the country.
Unagi Pie – Shizuoka
Eel is admittedly not an ingredient you’d expect to find in a typical cookie, but the Unagi Pies from Japan’s Shizuoka region are anything but typical. Made with locally-caught eels, the pies’ humble appearance can leave first-time tasters wondering if they’re about to bite into something fishy and pungent. Luckily, the powdered eel taste is subdued by granulated sugar, and the light, crisp, flaky crust gives a satisfying crunch that only enhances the treat’s sweetness.
This is just a sample of the thousands of omiyage products you’ll find during your travels of Japan. To learn which omiyage to be on the lookout for during your own trip, contact us at email@example.com for individualized recommendations!