You’re in Japan or planning a trip to Tokyo and beyond but not sure what kind of shopping you should do. I can tell you from personal experience that there are a lot of great opportunities to buy souvenirs, gifts, food, local specialties, kitchenware, beauty products, and more. This guide includes some of the things you should add to your list of cheap, unique, and famous things of what to buy in Japan. You just need to know where to look.
There are a lot of things to look out for and unlike my previous focus on delicious and tasty souvenirs from Japan, I want to break things down by store instead so you know exactly where to go so you can plan your trip accordingly. Of course, I’m not going to cover everything under the sun but if you’re interested in delicious Matcha snacks, cheaper electronics, traditional handicrafts, and more snacks, carry on reading!
Where to stay in Japan?
Looking for a place to stay in Tokyo or the best accommodations in Kyoto, these neighbourhood guides will serve you well. Otherwise, make sure you head to my recommended booking platform which is Booking.com which has the best selection of hotels, guest homes, and hostels.
What to buy in Japan and where to go
In Japan, it’s often a sensory overload of things. Whether you’re walking the streets of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, or even the smaller cities, you have so much to look at and ultimately shop at. There are the street vendors and local shops and then you also have the giant department stores that dominate hubs like Shinjuku and Ginza.
From bright lights to ones hidden behind bamboo doors and hanging fabrics at entrances called noren, it’s hard to know what are good things to buy to bring back home and where the good deals are at.
Let’s break down the Japanese souvenir goodies by store so you know where to go as you plan out your itinerary and trip and ultimately what to buy in Japan.
This is the equivalent of a dollar store in Japan or rather 100 Yen store. Most things are 100 Yen but some of the bigger items can be marked a little higher. What makes it such a fun store to explore is that it’s filled with Japanese goodies that you’d be hard pressed to find locally. They’re the kind of things that have made Muji so popular – organization stationary, cute accessories, magical cleaning tools, and things that are generally all very efficient and space optimized.
It’s so popular now that you’ll find this brand all over the world including North America, South America, Australia, Middle East, and even the Mauritius if you can believe it.
Now Daiso has a LOT of things. There are regular souvenirs which I’ll skip here but where the real goldmine are in the snack foods and home/lifestyle items. Let’s show you a few examples of things to look out for.
Food at Daiso
The food and snack section is really interesting but is really up to your preference of things like candies, rice crackers, cookies and more. For us, we’re a fan of soft candies so we picked up a few that looked like they could be good. We’ve tried the Fetuccini-style candies (bottom middle) before and know that they’re pretty awesome. The top right is a sour lemon candy which my wife likes.
The two teas to the left are another great buy because they’re typically small package size and highly gift-able. The top left says “Catechin Powder Tea” which actually means a green tea extracted powder, similar to the ones that’s used in most restaurants in Japan. They might not be the top quality stuff but if you want to drink a nice matcha green tea at home, this is it. The bottom is a ginger tea and also a great buy.
In addition, the food section will always have a fridge with cold drinks. While not necessarily something you’d bring home, this is always a great spot to pick up a new drink for later in the day.
Lifestyle at Daiso
This is honestly the tip of the iceberg and really depends on what you need at home but I’d recommend perusing through every single aisle since there’s always something interesting for everyone.
The above are a few examples but you’ll see here things like buckle for your suitcase, table hook for your purse, collapsible funnel, carton sealers, egg yolk separator, and mortar & pestle.
Other things we’ve bought in the past include arts and craft supplies that we haven’t seen in North America, organizing boxes, kitchen utensils, high quality chopsticks, bun steamers and Magic Eraser cubes. There’s all sorts of wild and crazy things. If you don’t buy any, at least you’ll get a good chuckle out of some genius inventions you wish they had back home.
Hours: Typically 1oAM – 9PM.
Tax free: Daiso does not have duty free.
Do they accept credit card?: Yes.
Now sure, it has a funny name that doesn’t seem to match anything Japanese but this is in fact a super-mega discount store that’s beloved by locals and tourists alike. Called “Donki” for short, they’re super popular because they are often open until very late (some actually 24 hours), and they sell a wide range of things from basic groceries to electronics, and clothing.
Don Quijote is a magical place to shop in Japan because you can find almost everything you need when it comes to buying souvenirs and gifts. The big advantage of shopping here is that they offer duty free which means that you can save the 8% tax. Since you’ll be buying loads here (I can almost guarantee it), you’ll be able to meet the minimum purchase threshold to qualify for tax free much more easily than if you were to shop at a smaller drug store like Matsumoto. More on tax-free shopping a little later.
One thing that you’ll immediately notice is that Don Quijote is a bit of an organized chaos. Depending on the store you go to, the layout will often be quite cramped, goods piled up on the racks to the ceiling, and involve multiple stories. Every corner you turn is STUFF that is potentially what to buy in Japan so get ready to shop here.
For us, it’s usually food and snacks that we go after, and my wife loves the beauty and pharmaceutical sections.
Food at Don Quijote
There are a couple of key staples that we buy from Don Quijote every time we go. It really comes down to a few things:
- Matcha latté powder – Yes it’s the instant stuff but it’s so good.
- Green tea from Uji Kyoto – There are a number of boxes you’ll find here but love that these are individually packed and the 50 will last you awhile.
- Daifuku – These are basically mochi balls with fillings inside. There are so many different varieties here, it’s truly hard to choose but for this trip we thought we’d try the royal milk tea with chocolate.
- Matcha chocolate snacks – Couldn’t say no!
- All the KitKat’s – Japan is known for their incredible assortment of special KitKat flavours that you can’t find elsewhere. We’ve tried a number of others including Wasabi but ultimately the best ones are the green tea flavours. Even when it comes down to green tea, they have different grades of it kind of like with chocolate (light, medium, dark).
- Bourbon chocolate cookies – Now you’ve probably seen similar cookies back home but we’ve fallen in love with these ones because of their buttery biscuits and green tea chocolate on top.
Beauty and Pharmaceuticals at Don Quijote
Now this is more of my wife’s department but there are a bunch of goodies in these sections of Don Quijote that are definitely classified as “things to buy in Japan”.
Starting from the top row, left corner:
- Roihi-Tsubokō – These are pain relief patches. I don’t personally use these but apparently they’re great for muscle aches, bad backs, and stiff shoulders. They’re meant to improve blood circulation and is a preferred brand because it has less odour. They are round in shape.
- KissMe Waterproof Mascara – “Keeps your eyelash curled the full day” and came highly recommended my wife says.
- Steam warm eye mask – These are extremely popular in Asia but essentially think of them as eye masks that heat up like Hot Hands when you take them out of the package. It’s great for those that have dry eyes and relaxes tired eyes.
- Hisamitsu pain relief patches – These are the competitor product to Roihi-Tsubokō and come in different rectangular sizes to cover larger areas. They are said to smell a bit more however.
- Hada Labo Rohto Gokujun Perfect Gel – Supposedly highly recommended. Hada Labo is one of Japan’s largest beauty brands and this is a facial moisturizer in the form of a milk cream serum that is packed with super hyoluronic acid.
- Sheet Resting Time Neat Foot – These come in a box 18 sheets and are great for those that have foot pain or also great for travel after a long day of walking (practically every day in Japan).
Another amazing find at Don Quijote
Special shout out has to go out to this product that we found as well which has been quite the miracle since we have hard water in Canada. These hot water boilers have calcium build up over time and the tablets here make it incredibly easy to thoroughly clean any hot water boiler.
Electronics in Don Quijote
You can find electronics in Don Quijote but most of them are quite basic and similar to what you might find in Daiso but it’s definitely worth taking a look. One thing that we saw was quite intriguing were the blow dryers. They looked to be on sale but when we did a price comparison with Bic Camera, we realized that Don Quijote was slightly more expensive.
Hours: Some are 24 hours like the one in Shinjuku and Ginza in Tokyo, others can be 9AM -5AM. Basically drop by any time during the day. Shopping at night is probably the best time to go when other things are closed.
Tax free: Yes, with 5,000 JPY pre-tax minimum spend.
Do they accept credit card?: Yes.
- When checking out, if you have any pharmaceutical products (i.e. the pain relief patches), you’ll need to go to the register on that same level
- All price tags that you see at Don Quijote are the tax-free price.
- Don’t always assume Don Quijote is the cheapest. For larger items, make sure you do price comparisons with other stores like BIC Camera, Yodobashi, LOAX, Labi, etc.
When it comes to things to buy in Japan, Bic Camera might be my favourite, not because I always come out with big purchases, but I love browsing the camera floor to see how they display their products, how thorough their brick and mortar stores are compared to North America, and to compare prices.
Bic Camera is also the place to buy your Tokyo Metro and Toei day passes.
Now usually I don’t come away with too much from this store but on this particular trip we did and so I’m sharing a few of the goodies that you can definitely consider when going to this or any of the other electronics stores in Japan.
To each’s own of course but I’d definitely do some research before heading to Japan to see what products you want to bring back. Here’s our most recent haul:
- Panasonic Hair Dryer Nano-Care EH-CNA5A – I’m probably not the best person to speak to this but apparently there’s a new craze around hair dryers that emit ions and that being good for your hair. These are either difficult to find overseas or extremely expensive so this is definitely classified as a good buy especially when you can get it tax-free. The C designation in the model number shows that this is voltage friendly, being able to switch between 100-120V and 200-240V. It also comes with a Euro-adapter.
- Panasonic Brush Curler EH-HT48 – This was more of an impromptu purchase but was a nice compact curler that they had in the same section.
- Screen protector – I have been looking for this for awhile and it was less a matter of a cheaper price than a matter of need.
- Manfrotto Xume System – Another item that I learned is available in North America but figured that I’d be saving a bit of money since everything would be tax-free anyways.
The case for buying electronics in Japan
- While most items are priced similarly to prices at home after conversion, where you ultimately save is when you can purchase things tax-free.
- There are definitely electronics that are only available in Japan.
- For North Americans, the plugs and voltage are compatible with Japan and so this isn’t a problem.
- As an example, last year I bought my Apple Airpods in Japan. While the price was only slightly cheaper than in Canada, I was able to purchase them tax-free from Bic Camera which meant a savings of 13% HST compared to Canada.
The case against buying electronics in Japan
- Things such as lenses and camera bodies are typically not worth it because if you buy the Japanese models, they will not come with any warranty once you go home. There are “overseas models” available but the prices are typically marked up.
- Don’t forget your own country’s customs rules. In Canada, the maximum we can bring back is $800 so unless you’re not planning on declaring, be mindful of this limit.
- If you live in a country that is 200-240V and have a different type of plug, you have to be careful about what you buy.
Hours: 10AM-10PM for most stores.
- Find out if they have any sales going on. When we were there, they were offering additional 5-7% off in additional to being tax-free if we spent up to another threshold.
- In Shibuya specifically, Bic Camera is split between two different locations and only the one that focuses on cell phones sells Apple products.
- Bic Camera also sells pharmaceutical and beauty products and their tax-free prices are quite competitive so if you know you’ll hit the tax-free threshold easily here, you can save all your purchases for the one shop.
While I’m not the biggest fan of Ichiran, this is one of the most sought after food souvenirs from Japan as not only ramen has gained popularity but also the brand.
These come pre-packaged in a box and good for 5 servings of ramen with all the dry ingredients you’ll need. You also have your choice of straight or curly noodles.
Where can you buy Ichiran souvenirs?
- Directly at the restaurant – Each restaurant sells these boxes and that’s your best chance of buying them because they’ll be the best stocked. They cost 2,000 JPY per box. You will be buying these with tax included.
- Don Quijote – They sell them too but they are quite often sold out. I noticed they come packed in a larger box despite also being 5 servings which makes them harder to pack.
Hours: Ichiran is open 24 hours.
Tax free: No unless purchasing from a tax-free store such as Don Quijote.
- These boxes are heavy and bulky so factor that into your packing decisions.
Okay, I know, not exactly Japanese but Flying Tiger is always a fun place to shop especially if you don’t have them back home. Flying Tiger is a Danish franchise that originates from Copenhagen.
They’re a funky discount store with a lot of colourful odds and ends for the home, school, kitchen, and more. Even if you don’t find anything you want, there’ll be plenty to amuse you including something like the above which has these two chameleons that clip plants to their support.
Hours: 10AM-9PM for most stores.
Tax free: No.
Do they accept credit card?: Yes.
There are stores in Japan where you’ll find all sorts of wonderful snacks and goodies. I don’t have any specific store in mind but thought I’d share some more sweet finds that make good gifts as well.
All of the above 3 boxes are very similar actually. This store we went to had stacks of these and were less than $1 each which made these an amazing deal. If you pay attention to what we bought at Don Quijote, it’s the same chocolate biscuit except these are are cacao, milk tea, and white chocolate flavoured. The only downside of these smaller packages is that they aren’t individually wrapped.
Another store that you will definitely want to visit is Tokyu Hands. Now this one may not seem special but this was quite department store to explore and find more hidden treasures.
Starting off as a DIY-store, it’s since grown into a giant department store focused on lifestyle, home improvement, and hobbies. The Shibuya flagship store has even more stuff with floors upon floors of things that’ll surprise you. It’s the kind of store where you might not have something specific in mind but you might come out with something like these spoons above or really cool stationary.
I liked how Tokyu Hands was very well organized and each level was focused on a specific category or theme which made for a very peasant shopping experience.
Hours: 10AM – 9PM.
Tax free: Yes, with 5,000 JPY pre-tax minimum spend.
Do they accept credit card?: Yes.
- They offer an additional discount when you like their Facebook page. There are QR codes scattered on signed throughout the store. Scroll down on the page and there’ll be a barcode where they scan to get the discount.
- There is an offer if you create an account with their app. I tried to do this but it’s all in Japanese and you need a Japan address so I don’t think you’ll be able to do this as a foreigner.
There are 3 big brands of convenient stores in Japan – 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart. While these stores almost a deserve an article on their own, I wanted to share the greatest hidden find that will excite all your friends back home and not break the bank either.
Inspired by our ramen tour in Tokyo, we discovered that each of the 3 Michelin-star rated ramen restaurants have their own instant noodles but you need to know where to look.
Going from left to right:
- Konjiki Hototogisu – We visited here to see with how the Toronto Konjiki Ramen compares. We had the ramen in Tokyo and it was superb.
- Tsuta – They are the world’s first Michelin starred ramen restaurant.
- Nakiryu – They’re known for their dandan noodles and you can have it in instant form with its spicy broth.
Now you’ll want to know where you can find each one so here goes:
- Knojiki Hototogisu – Lawson
- Tsuta – 7-Eleven
- Nakiryu – 7-Eleven
Lastly, I also found out that Tsuta has their own duty-free version. It’s the same instant noodles but boxed differently, packs in 3 servings, and eliminates the bulk of the bowl.
Bonus: We discovered this little gem at the 7-Eleven and I think you will too. They’re small bite-sized chocolate-covered pieces of ice cream and in this case matcha flavour. There are 6 pieces in every box and the balance of chocolate with creamy green tea ice cream is simply divine.
Lastly, when it comes to what to buy in Japan, it should always conclude with a visit to a local grocery store. There are a lot of great finds here and of course your picks might be very different from mine but here are a few of my favourites that you should definitely look out for.
From left to right:
- Deep-roasted sesame dressing – BEST SALAD DRESSING EVER.
- Pour over drip coffee – These usually come in packs of 5. Instead of instant coffee (gross!), these are an amazing alternative for a single serving cup of pour over coffee. Recommended brands are Sanwai Coffee, Blendy, or UCC.
- Flat mochi – This one is hard to find but we’ve stumbled upon it in a few places. Mochi usually comes in balls and is filled with red bean but love these as an alternative.
- Black sesame spread – This might be even better than Nutella, I swear!
High Quality Ceramics
I don’t have a specific store for you to go to but I have a few neighbourhoods in mind where you can keep your eye out for these types of ceramics
I absolutely love the craftsmanship, patterns, and designs of the bowls, cups, pots, and additional accessories like chopsticks holders. The purchases above were collected over a few trips to Japan and they’ve made a fine addition to our kitchen.
The go-to place for this is Kitchen Street or Kappabashi Street between Ueno and Asakusa however I’ve never made it there personally. The two spots we’ve picked good ceramics from were in the Tsukiji Outer Market and on the side streets of Asakusa. They’ve always been tiny little home-run shops. You’ll know it when you see it.
Duty Free at the Airport
Lastly is my ultimate treat that you have to pick up on your way out of Japan.
For those that don’t know ROYCE’, they’re a Japanese chocolate maker that specializes is best known for their Nama Chocolate which is made out of fresh Hokkaido cream, chocolate, and liquer to make a form of ganache in the form of cubes.
My favourite flavour is the “Maccha” or matcha which is made with a blend of white chocolate, premium green tea powder, and dusted with more green tea chocolate powder.
What makes this chocolate a cut above the rest is because of its rich, moist, smooth, and silky texture that melts in your mouth while giving off an incredible aromatic and bittersweet impression.
The only thing is that because it’s made out of fresh cream, it needs to be refrigerated and the shelf life is at most a month. You’ll have to eat it quickly but I suspect that won’t be a problem.
At time of writing, the duty-free price for ROYCE’ Nama Chocolates are 720 JPY. If you buy them right outside of the airport or in the city, you’re looking at 777 JPY.
Thing is, you’ll want to buy it right at the end of your trip because otherwise you’ll have to deal with keeping it chilled and you won’t be able to enjoy it as long back at home.
Note that stores do offer ice packs and special bags for 100 JPY.
Are other flavours good? Yes they are but having tried nearly all of them, the green tea matcha is still the best.
What else should you buy at duty free?
I’m glad you asked! Other top favourites here you can see above:
- Potato Farm – These are Hokkaido potato chips that look like french fries but are actually well…potato chips! They’re crispy, savoury, salty, but healthier than real french fries or regular potato chips.
- ROYCE’ Baton Cookies – These make great goodie bag gifts because they’re individually packed. They’re oval shaped matcha flavoured biscuits and chocolate-covered on the bottom.
- ROYCE’ Potato Chip Chocolate – These are chocolate covered potato chips and just so good.
How tax-free works in Japan
Tax-free isn’t complicated once you know how it works. However the signage at certain stores don’t often make things clear and there are a few steps that can be complicated if you haven’t gone through it once. Here are the steps for how it works.
Step 1: Identifying a tax-free store
Tax-free stores usually make it pretty obvious especially around the areas where there are a lot of tourists. They’ll flat out say that this store is a “Japan tax-free Shop”. These are usually the big department stores, branded outlets like Tokyu Hands and Don Quijote, and some boutique shops that operate in tourist areas.
Step 2: Making your purchase
When shopping in Japan, the price tag that you see on items will either only have one number or two numbers. If there are two, the larger number is the tax-free number and the smaller one is with tax included. If only one number is displayed, this is the amount without tax applied.
Step 3: Pay
This is where things can get a little confusing. From my experience, it’s always a two step process when paying for the items. That said, it’s different for every store.
You always start off by paying for the items that you’ve purchased. In some stores such as Don Quijote, that means doing that any register on any floor. However, at stores such as Tokyu Hands, we had to pay on the ground floor. The kicker here is when you’ve purchased pharmaceutical items. If this is the case, you must check out on the floor with the pharmaceuticals. Sounds confusing right? What I always ask first is “Where is tax-free?” and go from there.
After you’ve paid, they will put it in a special clear bag where they are they fully sealed by tape. The official rule is that you cannot open the bag and all items except liquids must be with you as a carry-on.
TIP: Think very carefully about how your cashier packages everything together. If you want to split bags with your travel partners for easier packing or separate liquids on their own, this is your chance to let them know how you want it.
Step 4: Get the refund
Unlike other countries and all of Europe where you fill out a form and the tax refunded at the airport, in Japan, the refund is done right at the store. This is a much better system I find because there’s no waiting and there’s no dealing with terrible conversion rates when you’re back home.
Typically the ground floor will have a special tax-free counter. What happens next is that they’ll ask for your passport. They’ll scan it, scan your entry visa barcode, enter information in, and calculate how much in tax you’re eligible to receive as a refund.
They will also tape or staple a special receipt onto your passport. The staple part is kind of annoying but there’s not much you can do about it.
Step 5: Drop off tax-free receipt
Now this part is going to be off-script because the information that you see above in the sign I saw at one of the stores.
Here’s what you need to know:
The customs officer doesn’t ask for the tax-free receipts (at least in Haneda). Right after bag security screening, there’s a desk dedicated to tax-free. At this desk, it’s all quite self-serve. Take the receipts that are attached to your passport and put them in the basket. The officer there doesn’t ask to check your purchases nor do they ask to check your passport. At customs, there are no questions about what you purchased or your tax-free receipts.
Based on the above, you can see that there’s almost no need to bring any of your tax-free purchases with you as carry-on. This also means that even if you opened the bag beforehand, they wouldn’t know.
Top 3 Packing Tips
To wrap things up, I thought I’d offer up a few pieces of advice to make for a smoother trip especially with all the things you’ll be picking up. Here are my top 3 tips for how to pack.
- In order to travel into Japan with carry-on only, pack a large duffle bag that you can use if you need to so you can check it in on the way back.
- Ask cashiers to pack tax-free bags in smaller bags to give you more flexibility when packing especially if you don’t feel comfortable breaking the bag seal.
- Split your tax-free purchases between people so this means you can divide the packing between your group since technically you’re only supposed to pack items in your bags that belong to you.
Have you been to Japan? What are the kind of things you picked up on your trip? Have I missed anything? Make sure to drop your questions and comments down below!