You’ve dreamt and planned your Japan trip for years. But as the big day comes around, one question remains: what on earth do you bring back?! Our concierge have done the research, made the trips and lived with the regret of not buying more than one leopard-printed banana cake. Here’s what they’d stash in their suitcase:
Shippu, Pain-Relieving Patches
If you can’t afford a weekly massage, consider investing in a stockpile of shippu. Shippu are pain-relieving patches you apply directly to your sore areas. They come in both hot and cold varieties.
Some believe that cold patches are better for treating sudden pain and that the hot ones should be used to remedy chronic pain, but this has largely been de-bunked by the medical community—just use whichever feels best for you.
Unlike American hot patches, shippu actually use herbs and some medical ingredients, making them much more effective for all types of pain. In Tokyo, you can find them at most drug stores. Try the mammoth Matsumoto Kiyoshi in Harajuku, or LOFT, a department store with an outlet in Shibuya.
Flavored Kit Kats
Sure, you can find overpriced bags of matcha-flavored Kit Kats in boutique grocery stores in America, but there are so many other cool, eyebrow-raising flavors you can only find in Japan. Some flavors to keep an eye out for are: sake, extra dark, ube, cherry blossom, roasted soy bean and hojicha (roasted green tea).
Sure, you could call Japanese tenugui "cloths" but that would be a disservice to these beautifully patterned light cotton fabrics. They can be used for bathing, as tea towels, as handkerchiefs or head scarves. The best are made with natural dyes, meaning no two pieces look exactly alike.
Nowadays you can find tenugui printed with everything from images of Hello Kitty to simple nature motifs. Pick yours up at Chidoriya in Nihonbashi. The shop is devoted to tenugui and stocks over 1900 different patterns.
Tokyo Banana Cake
Dubbed "the official souvenir of Tokyo," you can't go to Japan without picking up one of these kitschy banana cakes. The cakes have been produced since 1991 and it's estimated that yearly sales are approximately 4 billion yen (35 million dollars).
The cakes come in a variety of sizes and colors, but the classic is a steamed sponge cake filled with strained banana puree. If you really want to raise eyes, pick up the leopard-spotted, caramel-filled cake.
Scented Steam Eye Masks
Sure, you could use eye drops to revive scratchy, tired eyes after your long-haul flight to Tokyo. Or you could beeline to the nearest drugstore to stock up on MegRhythm’s steam eye mask. Using a gentle heat pad, the mask releases 40C degree steam onto the eyes. The masks come in a variety of scents, but our concierge dub lavender the most soothing of the bunch.
Fake Plastic Food
In most countries, you’d steer clear of the restaurants that put fake plastic food out in their store window. But not in Japan. Tokyo has no shortage of plastic food shops and a visit to one is a must for a goofy gift that’s sure to make a talking piece when placed in your kitchen back home.
Head to Kappabashi (it literally means Kitchen Town), which is a street in Tokyo jam-packed with fake food shops. You’ll find everything from ice cream and yakitori to plates of soba and pasta with chopsticks poised above.