Did you know that worldwide Japanese is one of the most popular cuisines? In fact, Japan exports more of its food than any other country besides Italy. When you visit there and start eating, it’s easy to see why.
Japanese snack food is more than just delicious. It’s often strange and unique in a way you won’t find anywhere else. That’s why travelers to Japan love to bring examples of it back with them when they leave. Not only are these treats great additions to the pantry, but they’re also excellent souvenirs to surprise your family and friends and give them a little taste of Japanese culture.
If you’re taking a trip to Japan, leave space in your suitcase for edible souvenirs. Specifically, these are 12 snacks you’ll definitely want to bring home.
12 Japanese Snacks You’ll Want to Bring Home With You
“I can get Kit-Kats down the street,” you say. Yeah, but not like in Japan. Imagine a flavor, and it’s probably a Kit-Kat in Japan. Birthday cake, strawberry and orange might seem obvious enough, but what about purple sweet potato, matcha or sake?
Best of all, they’re everywhere. Go to a Japanese grocery store, and you’ll find entire shelves, possibly even aisles, devoted to the candy bars. For serious Kit-Kat enthusiasts, there’s even a Kit-Kat store in Tokyo, but don’t do your shopping there unless you want fancy gift boxes. I made the mistake of that, and it was a bit anticlimactic. Not only is the store much smaller than I was imagining, but it’s also more expensive and there’s less variety than at the regular grocery store.
Have you ever thought about how inconvenient regular cookies are? They’re bulky and crumbly, and the packages are always hard to open. Well, maybe you haven’t thought about it, but like a lot of things, cookies are something the Japanese decided to make more convenient anyway.
Pocky is essentially cookie sticks. The sticks are then dipped in a chocolate coating leaving a small portion bare, perfect for holding. In addition to chocolate, Pocky sticks come in several other flavors including almond, strawberry, milk, mousse, green tea, honey, banana, cookies and cream, and coconut.
3. Calbee Jagariko
Calbee Jagariko is another stick-shaped snack. However, instead of a cookie, the sticks are more like potato chips. They’re usually savory and come in flavors like cheese, salad, green onion and soy sauce. If you’re feeling especially adventurous or want to surprise your friends when you get back from Japan, try the sea urchin or seaweed flavors.
Fans of Doraemon can’t come back from Japan without stocking up on dorayakis. Just be careful. Like that resourceful little cat, you might get addicted to these Japanese treats.
Dorayakis consist of two pancake-like patties that are sealed around a filling. This filling is traditionally made from azuki bean paste. This paste is used for a lot of desserts in Japan, but it may not seem very sweet to Westerners used to sugar-filled desserts. Get some azuki-bean dorayakis for the experience, but if you need something sweeter, you can now find other flavors like chocolate.
You can get fresh dorayakis at markets and on the street, but the easiest way to go for a souvenir is to get a big pack of individually wrapped treats at the supermarket.
5. Matcha Everything
Matcha is a powder made from green tea leaves. In Japan, pretty much anything that comes in various flavors has a matcha version. This is easily made by mixing in the powder. You can find matcha ice cream, matcha cupcakes, even matcha Oreos.
Surprise your friends and family back home by finding the strangest items you can flavor with matcha. Matcha potato chips? Matcha popcorn? Of course, you could just bring back plain matcha powder and try to invent your own weird dishes.
6. Cup Noodle
If you go to Japan, you have to try ramen, one of the country’s signature dishes. You might not be able to bring a fresh bowl of it back home, but Cup Noodle is the next best thing. These are small sealed cups of instant ramen that can be easily microwaved. Cup Noodle is the original and most famous brand, but there are others, and they come in a wide variety of flavors like beef, chicken, seafood, etc.
7. Tokyo Banana
This peculiar pastry is the official souvenir sweet of Tokyo, so you can’t visit the city without picking up a few. They’re sponge cakes filled with a banana custard cream, and to round it out, they’re shaped like bananas.
While the souvenirs you’ll find in Tokyo shops and Japanese airports are the original plain banana, there are other flavors and limited additions you can find if you really dig. Just be aware that you need to eat them within seven days of purchase, so buy them just before you leave the country.
Wagashi is a broad name referring to various traditional Japanese confections. It’s typical to eat them with tea. They can include many different ingredients, but usually feature bean paste, rice, fruits or nuts.
Wagashi can make great souvenirs because they’re often specific to a region or prefecture. For example, Akumaki is a type of wagashi unique to the Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto Prefectures. They’re made from bamboo skin, rice, sugar, and soybean flour during the time of the Boys’ Festival on May 5. Wagashi like these make for really special souvenirs that tell the story of a specific trip, rather than some of the more generic snacks you might find at the airport.
Many people like to bring taiyaki back from Japan for the simple reason that they’re shaped like fish. They consist of two waffle-like wafers sandwiching some kind of filling. Normally the filling is sweet, often the traditional Japanese azuki bean paste, or chocolate, custard or sweet potato. Occasionally the filling is something savory like cheese or sausage.
Chinsuko is a sweet biscuit that comes from Okinawa. When it comes to Japanese culture, Okinawa is a bit different because it was a separate kingdom until it was annexed by Japan in 1879. Therefore, chinsuko makes a good addition to a well-rounded bag of souvenir snacks that captures every aspect of Japanese cuisine.
The biscuits themselves are pretty simple. They’re made of lard and flour and sweetened with sugar, similar to shortbread.
11. Shiroi Koibito
Now we can take a trip to the far north of the country. Shiroi Koibito is a sweet made in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Before, you could only get them there, but now they’re popular all over the country and easy to find in most stores.
Interestingly, these sweets are a Japanese adaptation of the traditional European cookie langue de chat. Two of these cookies sandwich either white chocolate or milk chocolate, depending on which you buy. They come in a recognizable package decorated with snowflakes to represent the island of Hokkaido.
12. Senbei rice crackers
Rice crackers are as ubiquitous in Japan as wheat crackers are in the West. There are endless varieties and brands that come in different textures and flavors.
Senbei are the most traditional kind, and they’re very simple. They’re just rice smashed into a disc that’s then baked or grilled. It’s common to flavor them with soy sauce or add salt or seasonings like curry. They may even be wrapped in seaweed.
Like Western crackers, these snacks are versatile, so you can eat them alone or with cheese or meat. You’ll have no problem finding them in convenience or grocery stores and bringing them back home to enjoy even after your trip.