A Quick Guide to Omiyage: Japan’s Fun and Quirky Food Souvenirs

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From Tokyo’s cute banana‑shaped sponge cakes to sub‑tropical Okinawa’s shortbread, here are eight edible souvenirs from across Japan.

Japan’s gift‑giving culture is like no other. The word omiyage translates to “souvenir” but is tied to traditions and customs more nuanced than western notions of what a travel keepsake can be. Often, omiyage means edible gifts that you give to others, not to yourself. (Even returning from a short weekend away empty‑handed is a serious faux pas among family, friends and colleagues.)

Cities and regions across Japan have their own omiyage. Whether you’re in Tokyo, Kyoto or sub‑tropical Okinawa, just look for windows lined with colourful boxes filled with delicately wrapped treats. For some omiyage ideas, here are eight of the best food souvenirs from Japan.

July 21, 2021
Karakara Senbei (Japanese rice crackers) displayed on a dark brown plate with some colourful charms or ornaments.
   Photo: Karakara Senbei
  1. Karakara Senbei (Yamagata) — Japan’s answer to Kinder Surprise, these triangular rice crackers have been crafted in Yamagata in northern Honshu for more than 300 years. Each cracker contains one of 150 beautiful, usually handmade, toys delicately wrapped in hot‑from‑the‑oven dough. The name “Karakara” comes from the rattling sound the toy makes when the cracker is shaken.

A yellow package of Tokyo Banana edible souvenirs, with a few packaged Tokyo Banana treats displayed in front of it.
   Photo: Shutterstock
  1. Tokyo Banana (Tokyo) — Since their introduction in 1991, these custard cream‑filled banana‑shaped sponge cakes have become the Tokyo food souvenir of choice. Each elegant yellow box contains eight miniature cakes, some featuring printed motifs such as hearts, leopard print or flowers. They are soft, not too sweet and the creamy filling has a subtle banana flavour – they’re also cheap, and you’ll find them at shops strategically placed in Tokyo’s main train stations, as well as Haneda and Narita airports, making them one of the most popular food souvenirs to bring back from Japan.

Related: Exploring Samurai Design Tradition in Kanazawa

Yatsuhashi, curved rectangular light brown Japanese snacks made from sweet rice flour, displayed on a black plate.
   Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  1. Yatsuhasi (Kyoto) — Complete your trip to picturesque Kyoto by picking up this sweet and crispy souvenir snack, which is also the city’s most famous omiyage gift. Yatsuhashi is made of mochiko (sweet rice flour), sugar and cinnamon. An unbaked version is also used as the wrapping for a dumpling filled with anko (mashed azuki bean paste sweetened with sugar or honey).

A closeup of a Japanese snack called a mimuro monaka, made from a wafer with Japanese characters stamped in it.
   Photo: Hitoshi TAKAGI
  1. Mimuro Monaka (Nara) — Each Mimuro Monaka snack features a filling of sweet red bean paste (made with Dainagon azuki beans) sandwiched between two delicate wafer cakes. They are made and sold at Nara’s historic confectionary store Mimuro Shiratamaya Eiju, located close to the main torii gate of Nara’s Omiwa Shrine.

Three Japanese pastry snacks called unagipai displayed in transparent packaging featuring a red shape with Japanese characters written inside.
   Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  1. Unagipai (Shizuoka) — These sweet butter cookies may look like French pastry, but they contain garlic powder and dry powdered eel and originate from Lake Hamana (famous for its eels) in Shizuoka Prefecture. The cookies were the brainchild of a pastry shop owner who wanted to create a souvenir treat for travellers passing through the region. He marketed Unagipai as a night‑time snack that, according to some, is also an aphrodisiac.

Related: A Visual Tour of Japan with Photographer Frédéric Tougas

Three kibi dango (circular, white Japanese dumplings) displayed on an ornate blue and white plate bearing traditional Japanese patterns.
   Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  1. Kibi dango (Okayama) — Made from a sticky dough of sugar, powdered millet grass and rice, these gel‑like dumplings come in flavours like wine and peach. They originate from Okayama, where they were once presented as religious offerings at the Kibitsuhiko‑jinja shrine. As the city became a domestic tourist destination in the 19th century, merchants began selling them as food souvenirs and eventually they became Okayama’s signature sweet.

A selection of momiji manju, Japanese souvenir cookies shaped like maple leaves, each one chopped open to reveal a variety of fillings in colours from light yellow to black.
   Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  1. Momiji Manjū (Hiroshima) — A specialty on the island of Itsukushima in Hiroshima, these Japanese maple leaf‑shaped buckwheat rice cakes typically contain red bean paste, but you can also find them filled with custard, chocolate, green tea flavouring, white beans and even cheese.

Two Japanese chinsuko shortbread-style biscuits on top of another layer of three, displayed on a black plate.
   Photo: Shutterstock
  1. Chinsuko (Okinawa) — Japan’s very own sub‑tropical island paradise also has its own food souvenir: Okinawa’s chinsuko is a shortbread‑style biscuit made with flour and lard. Its origins are unknown, but some speculate it is based on taosu, a similar cookie from China. Another theory suggests that chinsuko was the islanders’ attempt to replicate castella, a sponge cake from Portugal.