I travel for work and I work to travel. If I’m not on a travel writing assignment to some unreachable snowed-under onsen or staying the night in a temple and drinking sake with the monks, you’ll find me taking photos of castles somewhere. I don’t know what jet lag is, I’m fine with dragging suitcases, and I am curious about everything. My only blind spot is shopping while traveling. It’s on the bottom of my priority list.
Before Japan, I used to dread souvenir shopping. But in Japan, I fell for the omiyage culture. Now, I leave extra time to browse omiyage gifts at the end of my trip. Omiyage is often equated with “souvenir” but their overlap is not a hundred percent. Omiyage is a souvenir from your travels, but usually edible and meant for other people. In a way, you’re sharing a bite of the experience with everyone. It’s a win-win.
The Omiyage Challenge
When TSC challenged me to buy omiyage from Japan’s 47 prefectures, my travel-hungry heart already started imagining a yearlong adventure traveling Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa. However, the challenge is both easier but trickier than I expected. I was tasked with buying omiyage from all 47 Japanese prefectures without leaving Tokyo. What is more, all that omiyage had to be hauled in just one day. And it had to be legit so as to convince people they’re getting the real deal.
Starting the Day in Hokkaido
Before buying omiyage, I had to “travel.” A great way to travel without traveling is by eating the food of your desired destination. So, I traveled 15 minutes on foot to Sapporo, Hokkaido, via the Soup Curry Express Line. My culinary train was called Rojiura Curry Samurai, a restaurant serving food that is worthy of love letters. Both the dish and this restaurant originated in Sapporo, Hokkaido. I was just visiting one of their Tokyo branches, but it fools me that I’m back in Sapporo every single time.
One of their branded curry pouches alone is a great Hokkaido omiyage. However, I was heading to a dedicated omiyage shop where there’s much more choice.
Omiyage Shopping Spree
Aside from the tourist spots and their offers of local merchandise, airports and big train stations are naturally the omiyage paradise of Japan. Many travelers do their souvenir shopping at the end of the trip, before departing back home. Or if you’re forgetful, busy, or in a hurry, you can buy omiyage at the terminal when you arrive. Whatever you do, don’t come back empty-handed. I don’t know what happens if you don’t bring omiyage, and I don’t want to find out.
My goal for the challenge was to buy omiyage without really traveling, so I searched for the nearest omiyage store possible. The Nippon Standard is a chain of well-stocked omiyage shops, and I happened to be within walking distance from their Mitaka Station store. Armed with just a wallet and my Tokyo-themed bag as a cheeky Easter egg that I wasn’t really traveling.
What Went Wrong
Of course, my cheeky bag was not big enough. The shopping basket was not big enough to hold all items either. Sensing the confusion in the cashier’s eyes, I mumbled “I want to buy 47 omiyage from 47 prefectures. I’ll be back!” I went back home to leave the bag of 15 omiyage I had bought, before coming back with a suitcase. Admittedly, a problem nobody else was likely to have but me. Normally, you’ll be buying omiyage from the prefecture you’ve just come from, not all 47 at once.
Navigating the omiyage was like getting lost in Shinjuku Station. Prefectures were either indicated only with kanji or completely missing. Products were mostly grouped by type, not by region. Luckily, the shop staff was there to help. They didn’t know what was from where either, but they helped me look for it and read the kanji for me.
For some prefectures, there was a variety of food and drinks to choose from, as well as the occasional clothes item, accessory, or cosmetics. For some, there was only one item. For instance, there was only packaged gyutan meat representing Miyagi Prefecture. Not a great option if I was coming back from Sendai and wanting to buy omiyage for my vegan friends. So, note that buying omiyage while still in the prefecture you are visiting will offer you the widest and best array of souvenirs.
After almost two hours of sticking my nose in the labels of noodles and all the different, but somehow the same, green tea packages, I had to capitulate at 40 prefectures. Even with the help of the lovely shop assistants, there was absolutely nothing for seven prefectures. And not to sound clickbaity but — the missing prefectures will surprise you.
There was nothing from Osaka and Nara prefectures, despite being among the most famous travel destinations in Japan. No deer crackers in sight. Nothing either from the unique Tottori prefecture with its sand dunes, Detective Conan and GeGeGe no Kitaro merchandise, and the unique local coffee chain Sunaba. Nothing from nearby Yamanashi and Gifu prefectures. And nothing from Toyama and Fukui prefectures.
What Went Right
Obviously, finding omiyage from 40 prefectures out of 47 is pretty amazing. The omiyage was the real deal sent from the respective prefectures.
Hunting for the Missing 7 Omiyage
It was time to level up in the omiyage hunt, so I hopped on the train to Tokyo Station. Under the many train tracks of this station, there is an underground city consisting solely of shops and restaurants. The hallways under the Yaesu exit are home to eateries from all over Japan, serving everything from classic Hokkaido miso ramen to authentic Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki.
And it’s here that Shokoku Gotochi Plaza is located, in the Yaesu Underground, in an area called First Avenue Tokyo Station. The shop is similar to Nippon Standard and can be found at major airports like Narita too.
Here, it was even harder to find what I was looking for. But with the help of staff, I did manage to find six out of the seven missing omiyage. Again — the last missing prefecture will surprise you. No luck with Tottori. So, I did what I was challenged to do: lie and pretend. I grabbed a little Japanese kimono-inspired pouch that was labeled “zenkoku” (from Japan as a whole). Technically, one can come back from Tottori with a cute gift bought from Tottori, but not necessarily a unique local omiyage representing Tottori. Not a good look, but better than nothing.
Oh, and another oopsie — the cashier pointed out that my omiyage from Nara was simply made in Nara but was representing Osaka. I later discovered that there was a special Nara omiyage shop in Shinbashi, with little deer mascots and everything. So, if you’re ever coming back from Nara without a gift, don’t panic and head to Shinbashi.
Before leaving Tokyo Station, I decided to end the shopping portion of the challenge by buying a real omiyage for myself. It was nice seeing you, Tokyo Station!
Ending the Day in Okinawa
Okinawan izakaya (Japanese pubs) are popular in Tokyo, so you’ll find more than one throughout the city. I chose to visit an izakaya in Miyashita Park’s Shibuya Yokocho area. This yokocho, or alleyway, is to food what omiyage shops are to souvenirs. The little street is lined with eateries serving regional food from Okinawa to Hokkaido and everything in between.
Complete with Orion Beer lanterns, a Habu viper sake jar, and Okinawan music playing, this place tricks your brain into thinking you’ve traveled to the tropical islands even before you take a bite. I ate Okinawa favorites like goya champuru, taco rice, rafute pork, purple potato, and of course umibudo (aka if bubble wrap was edible and tasty).
For a more elegant cafe experience, you can also check out d47 Shokudo cafe in Shibuya Hikarie. The stylish cafe on the 8th floor overlooks Shibuya Crossing and serves food and drinks from 47 prefectures.
Deceiving My Friends with the Gift of Omiyage
Finally, the hardest part of the challenge. I hate lying and I’m bad at it. However, being a travel writer and a travel junkie helped make everything plausible. And I want to use this opportunity to publicly apologize to my wonderful friends for the deception!
Test 1: Omiyage from Prefectures I Have Visited Before
Most omiyage shop customers are people who just came back from a trip but didn’t buy anything. So, mimicking that, I brought the Karuizawa beer and Nagano wine to a friends’ gathering. They had seen my recent trips to both places on Instagram, so they accepted the omiyage without any suspicion. I even slipped in a Niigata beer saying I bought it while in Karuizawa. So, my trip was real, the omiyage were real, and the little deception was that I bought them in Tokyo.
Test 2: Omiyage from Prefectures I Have Never Visited
For the remaining omiyage, I picked a different audience — people at the gathering that I met for the first time. They happily munched on Akita iburigakko chips and I simply said “I travel a lot, so I bring a lot of omiyage.” Technically, true.
Which Omiyage Is Easiest to Find?
Hokkaido and Okinawa. The northernmost and the southernmost prefectures are popular destinations, and different enough to have really unique foods and by extension omiyage that stands out. Both omiyage shops I visited in Tokyo had me spoiled for choice.
Which Omiyage Is Hardest to Find?
Of course, Nara and Tottori. Then, Osaka and the rest of the seven prefectures I couldn’t find in the first shop.
Among the 40 prefectures that I did find omiyage from on my first try, Tokyo, Saitama, and Kanagawa were problematic. Each offered one option only and not an exciting one. There were plain potato chips from Saitama and beer snacks from Yokohama.
The most famous Tokyo omiyage is anything with “Tokyo Banana” in the name, but Nippon Standard only offered Tokyo Hiyoko when I visited — super cute bird-shaped sweets filled with white anko bean paste. And Shokoku Gotochi didn’t have Tokyo Banana either.
Osaka wins in my shopping haul. I bought a pack of pudding with one of its mascots — the puppet clown called Kuidaore Taro. Each pudding was wearing a little clown hat and revealed the clown’s face underneath. Then, there was the fun of assembling the pudding with the caramel sauce and caramel crunch. It’s probably the tastiest pudding I’ve ever had. Top marks all around.
The runner-ups are Tochigi’s decadent strawberry sauce and Nagasaki’s castella cake.
Top 10 omiyage in my haul are Osaka, Tochigi, Nagasaki, Niigata, Akita, Aomori, Hokkaido, Okinawa, Kumamoto, and Kagawa.
I’m sorry Kobe, but the only option was a pack of retro snacks that tasted like old oil. Kochi was the same. Finally, Ibaraki’s sweet potato chips tasted also of oil, while Saitama’s plain potato chips were forgettable. And I’ve been to all of these prefectures and I know the amazing food they offer. Kobe is a gourmet destination and Ibaraki produces some of the best vegetables and fruits in Japan. They just need to send the good stuff to the Tokyo omiyage shops.
Toyama’s shrimp senbei were sold in small packs for about 100 yen. All the drinks I bought — Niigata beer, Nagano wine, Saga cider, Ehime juice, etc. — were between 200 and 400 yen. The smoked egg called “smotchi” from Yamagata was also cheap.
Most Expensive Omiyage
Osaka pudding and Nagasaki castella were the priciest but worth it. However, all omiyage are reasonably priced, never exceeding 1500–2000 yen.
10 Lessons Learned from My Sneaky Omiyage Challenge
- Don’t wait until you return home to buy omiyage. There’s always better and more varied omiyage in the prefectures than at an omiyage shop in Tokyo. Buy while you’re traveling if you can. You’ll also be helping the local economy.
- Take no risks with Nara and Tottori. Or most small prefectures for that matter; always buy omiyage within the prefecture.
- Omiyage offerings change frequently. Don’t expect to always find the same things. On the other hand, it’s fun to find new seasonal omiyage.
- Be prepared to spend a lot of time searching. For many prefectures, it’s difficult to find what you need.
- Tokyo needs to diversify its omiyage. The prefecture has an identity crisis and is claiming bananas as its thing.
- Omiyage shop staff are always helpful.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new. Omiyage products can occasionally be inedible, but more often they’re good and even amazing.
- Omiyage are affordable.
- Don’t worry if you forgot to buy omiyage during your trip. Most of the time, you can pick something up in Tokyo. People will not question you on where you bought the omiyage. Why would they?
- If you can’t travel, you can still enjoy other prefectures. Buying and eating other prefectures’ omiyage in Tokyo is an enjoyable experience. And the next best thing for when you can’t travel.
My List of Omiyage from 47 Prefectures
Here is everything I purchased during my challenge. As you can see, while Tokyo offered omiyage for almost every prefecture — all found within two stores — what was available was not always the prefecture’s most popular offerings. If you truly want to get something special from the prefecture, your best bet is always to pick up the omiyage while you’re there.
|Aichi||愛知県||Aichi has some of the best Japanese food varieties. It is also big on coffee culture. However, I ended up buying some almond candy.|
|Akita||秋田県||I bought iburigakko chips. Iburigakko is smoked daikon radish and a unique Akita food.|
|Aomori||青森県||Of course, I bought an apple product from the prefecture that is Japan’s biggest apple producer.|
|Chiba||千葉県||I bought peanut butter from Japan’s biggest peanut producer.|
|Ehime||愛媛県||Ehime is known for everything citrus. I bought mikan mandarin juice.|
|Fukui||福井県||Fukui is known for good seafood, so I ended up with canned mackerel.|
|Fukuoka||福岡県||Fukuoka is known for tonkotsu ramen and mentaiko cod roe. But in summer, one of the offerings is lemon mochi, and it was irresistible.|
|Fukushima||福島県||Fukushima is great for fruit, rice, and sake. The only option at the shop was Fukushima soba noodles with green tea flavor.|
|Gifu||岐阜県||Gifu is known for a variety of food with local twists. I bought soy pasta, obviously aimed at international tourists.|
|Gunma||群馬県||Gunma is known for pasta and cabbage, but I ended up with coffee chocolate from a coffee shop with a long history. Not bad at all.|
|Hiroshima||広島県||The whole Setouchi area in Hiroshima is famous for its lemons, so I bought lemon meringues.|
|Hokkaido||北海道||I bought melon cookies because Hokkaido is home to the best and priciest melons.
It’s also known for milk (being the prefecture with the most cows in Japan), corn, lavender, miso ramen, and soup curry.
|Hyogo||兵庫県||Hyogo is known for Kobe beef. But just like Yokohama, Kobe is a port town known for coffee and its Chinatown. Hence, I bought coffee-flavored snacks.|
|Ibaraki||茨城県||Known for so many tasty veggies, Ibaraki is Japan’s biggest producer of lotus roots and green peppers. It’s also known for natto and sweet potato. I bought sweet potato chips.|
|Ishikawa||石川県||Ishikawa is known for nice things like tea and gold. However, I bought kanten jelly.|
|Iwate||岩手県||I got my hands on the famous Iwate omiyage that is the Nanbu senbei crackers.|
|Kagawa||香川県||Kagawa is famous for udon noodles, but I bought yuzu somen noodles as the next best thing.|
|Kagoshima||鹿児島県||Kagoshima is known for fruits and seafood. Combining both, I bought candy that claims to have been made with deep sea water.|
|Kanagawa||神奈川県||Kanagawa is known for adopting Western culture, so coffee and beer are popular omiyage. Staying on theme, I bought special Yokohama beer snacks.|
|Kochi||高知県||Kochi is known for seafood. But choice was non-existent, just a pack of nostalgic retro-looking crackers.|
|Kumamoto||熊本県||In the absence of omiyage with Kumamoto’s famous Kumamon mascot, I bought chestnut yokan.|
|Kyoto||京都府||The old capital’s iconic omiyage is yatsuhashi mochi sweets. Although available in Tokyo Station, they weren’t in Mitaka Station. I bought a tenugui towel since crafts from Kyoto are also a popular gift.|
|Mie||三重県||For Mie, I bought a very classic Japanese wagashi with mochi and anko paste.|
|Miyagi||宮城県||As the only option for Miyagi, but the most famous one, I bought gyutan otsumami meat.|
|Miyazaki||宮崎県||Miyazaki is best known for mango, but sadly the only omiyage option was tea.|
|Nagano||長野県||Nagano is known for great food and wine, so I bought Nagano wine.|
|Nagasaki||長崎県||Known for foreign imports, among other things, Nagasaki is where castella cake was introduced to Japan, so of course, I bought that.|
|Nara||奈良県||When in Nara, everybody buys deer-themed snacks. When in Tokyo, I had to settle with crackers made in Nara but depicting Osaka.|
|Niigata||新潟県||Niigata is proud of its rice and alcohol, so I bought Niigata beer.|
|Oita||大分県||Oita is known for onsen and sake. I bought a great snack for after an onsen dip and drinking sake — crispy chicken snacks.|
|Okayama||岡山県||Okayama is known for fruits and sweets. I bought homemade cookies.|
|Okinawa||沖縄県||Known for all things tropical, but especially for purple yams and kokuto black sugar, I bought black sugar cocoa from Okinawa.|
|Osaka||大阪府||Like Tokyo, it’s hard to pin Osaka down when it comes to omiyage. That’s why the pudding with its famous clown mascot was perfect.|
|Saga||佐賀県||Saga is known for pottery and tea. I bought the only available omiyage, which was watermelon cider.|
|Saitama||埼玉県||Saitama is known for tea and bonsai. I somehow ended up with potato chips.|
|Shiga||滋賀県||Kyoto’s neighbor Shiga is known for great beef and green tea. Only the latter was available.|
|Shimane||島根県||Shimane is home of the Shinto gods and known for traditional wagashi sweets. I bought a new limited-edition sugar kanten.|
|Shizuoka||静岡県||Shizuoka is known for tea and wasabi, so I bought wasabi caviar.|
|Tochigi||栃木県||I bought strawberry sauce from Tochigi, which is known as the Strawberry Kingdom.|
|Tokushima||徳島県||Tokushima is known for tea and sugar cane. I bought tea.|
|Tokyo||東京都||Nobody is sure what Tokyo is famous for. Everything and nothing. I wanted to buy a Tokyo Banana, but I ended up with Tokyo Hiyoko sweets.|
|Tottori||鳥取県||Tottori is known for sand dunes and great manga and anime creators. Sadly, I didn’t find any omiyage. But from having visited Tottori, I know omiyage there is caramel and coffee-flavored to remind visitors of the sand dunes.|
|Toyama||富山県||Toyama is apparently known for great shrimp. The only omiyage option was ebi senbei.|
|Wakayama||和歌山県||One of the things Wakayama is known for is plums, so I bought umeshu plum liqueur.|
|Yamagata||山形県||I was hoping for fruity omiyage from this cherry kingdom, but alas, I ended up with the only option — a smoked egg. It was delicious though.|
|Yamaguchi||山口県||Yamaguchi is known for pottery, but also food like pickles. I bought something I have never seen before: umeboshi-flavored kikurage mushroom pickles.|
|Yamanashi||山梨県||Yamanashi is known for wine and fruits, among other things. However, I bought onsen mochi.|