Kyoto is the best place in Japan to buy authentic Japanese goods. Here’s a handy list of some great Kyoto souvenirs and the best place to buy them.
Washi Paper © apium
Kyoto has the best selection of traditional Japanese arts, crafts and goods. It’s the best place to buy the perfect souvenir of your Japan trip. It’s also a great place to buy a present for someone back home. Indeed, Kyoto is about the best place on earth to buy someone a really memorable gift. The following list is based entirely on my personal experience of buying things for the folks back home. All the items here are reasonably prices, light (no excess baggage fees), and are guaranteed to knock the socks of the lucky recipient.
Yukata (light cotton summer robe)
Most Japanese hotels and all ryokan supply their guests with light cotton robes called yukata. If you’re like most people, you’ll find them so comfortable that you’ll want to take one home. Here are some great places to purchase yukata:
- Daimaru Department Store: A good selection and English-language assistance if necessary.
- Takashimaya Department Store: Another good selection and English-language help.
- Isetan Department Store: A good spot to pick one up on the way out of the city.
- The Kyoto Handicraft Center: This art and craft emporium has some nice yukata on offer.
If you’ve got a taste for green tea from drinking it in Kyoto restaurants or just want a dynamite gift for the folks back home, then you’ll want to pick up some good green tea before you leave town. Green tea makes the perfect gift: it’s inexpensive, light and compact. Of course, if you’re Australian, you’ll have to declare this when you land, as it is a plant product.
- Ippodo: This is Kyoto’s best tea shop. The gift sets here are guaranteed to impress.
Washi (Japanese Traditional Paper)
Washi will always be my favorite Japanese craft item. It’s just head and shoulders above any other handmade paper. Like green tea, it’s inexpensive, light and (relatively compact). Get the shop to put big pieces in cardboard tubes for safe transport.
- Wagaminomise Morita Washi: My favorite washi shop in the city.
- Kamiji Kakimoto: Another excellent paper shop, right downtown. Check out their washi computer and letter paper.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more, then Japanese lacquerware is the way to go. Those who have seen high-quality lacquerware know of its beauty. For a stunning gift for that special person, lacquerware will never go wrong.
- Zohiko: This is the best lacquerware shop in Kyoto. The upstairs is like a museum.
Japanese cooking knife
If you are a cook or know someone who is, then be sure to pick up a fine Japanese cooking knife. Just know that, like the English, the Japanese believe that giving a cutting tool is a good way to sever a friendship. For this reason, the clerk will ask if you intend to give the knife as a gift. If so, they will include a small rock to symbolically dull the knife (thereby insuring that it will not sever any relationships).
- Aritsugu: The best shop in town for superb traditional cooking knives. In Nishiki Market.
Few gifts give more bang for the buck. You can pick up superb wood block prints at the following shop for around US$30 and the recipient will be convinced you spent several times that. If you put one of these in a nice frame, you’ve got something you can hang on the wall of the most elegant room.
- The Kyoto Handicraft Center: Art and craft emporiums and souvenir centers are usually tacky and touristy affairs, but this place is actually pretty good. I particularly like the woodblock prints here.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world