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Food Gift for a Japanese Person

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I will be visiting Japan in the near future (Tokyo and Kyoto). I would like to bring back food gifts for my Japanese teacher who is originally from Japan but living in the United States. She is in her late 20s. I have no idea what she likes as far as food is concerned.

Any suggestions would be helpful.

Thanks in advance

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  1. I would ay the best things to take back for your friend would be either some sort of sweets (okashi) or maybe some sort of local sake, either nihonshu or umeshu, or, if your friend is from kyushu, some shochu. The best would be something from her home region that she cannot get in the US.
    US customs is, in my opinion, one of the worst in the world for food item. However, if you are carrying something like crackers or cookies, there is usually no problem. Just refer to it as cookies or crackers. And as long as you are not carrying too much alcohol, as in more than three bottles or so of nihonshu or an equivalent of shochu, you should be OK. But with the US, you never can tell.

    4 Replies
    1. re: edozanmai

      Worst as in, they took the food away, or what?

      I've never had issues because of food. It was only when I wrote Lebanon on my customs form that problems arose...

      @BellaDonna if the teacher likes sweets, "hakuun no hotori" might be something to look for. I've seen its cousin at Minamoto Kitchoan (a Japanese sweets shop) in Manhattan, but doubt it's too easily found elsewhere in the states (maybe in SF).

      1. re: edozanmai

        It is a surprise gift isn't it?
        May be a key is her home town.
        Do you know which prefecture is she from?

        1. re: irukaunyu

          It is a "surprise" gift...more of a token of appreciation for putting up with me taking too long to learn Hiragana and just dealing with me in general

          She is from the surrounding Tokyo area is my understanding

          1. re: BellaDonna

            Come from near Tokyo.
            So, How about 'Hiyoko', 'Hato Sablé', 'Bunmeido Castella'.
            Actually these are not a gourmet sweets, but have something for Japanese.

             Hiyoko (銘菓 ひよこ:chick-formed bean-jam bun )
              http://www.hiyoko.co.jp/hiyoko/

             Hato Sablé (鳩サブレー:pigion-shaped biscuit
            )  http://www.hato.co.jp/hato/

             Bunmeido Castella (文明堂のカステラ:sponge cake
            )  http://www.bunmeido.co.jp/

            Or Yatsuhashi is a famous Kyoto souvenir.

             Nama-Yatsuhashi (生八橋:soft yatsuhashi
            )  http://www.shogoin.co.jp/pro/03.html

            And that, in Kyoto, there are a lot of cute items.
            For example this is a Japanese handkerchief shop.

             Eirakuya (永楽屋 細辻伊兵衛商店
            ) http://www.eirakuya.jp/
             (http://www.eirakuya.jp/onlineshopping/

            )

            May be you will find a lot of attractive items during your Kyoto trip.

            have fun. :-)

      2. Tastes really vary among Japanese people, so the best thing to do would be to ask her. Chances are there is something she has been craving, but cannot get where she is now living. Apart from that, really good green tea is almost always appreciated.

        1. Yes, I too recommend either a really good green tea, senbei (rice crackers), or some kind of boxed wagashi. Either wait until the last day before you leave to buy the wagashi, or be sure to inquire how long it will stay fresh. All these items are very expensive here in the States and the variety is not nearly as good as it will be in Japan.

          1. Karinto, a sweet fried dough snack, would make a nice foodie gift. You can buy boxes or tins with small portioned packages. It's light, easy to pack, and will stay fresh for a while. There's a well-known shop in Tokyo Station that sells them called Nihonbashi-Nishikihorin Karinto, but department stores have them or even a few of the karinto makers have shops around town.

            In general, if you go to the food gift sections of the finer department stores like Takashimaya and Isetan, there are tons of counters with various Japanese confections and other delectables meant as gifts. These are often proxy counters for the actual original shops that are scattered around Tokyo. Here, you can see them, try them, and buy them in various gift sizes and configurations. Me, I like the seasonal mochi snacks. Tokyo Station also has a lot of gift counters these days.

            The prefectural antenna shops also have interesting food gifts, but it helps to read/speak decent Japanese to navigate through items there.

            1. In addition to some of the excellent suggestions given (I love karinto!), may I also suggest something like a high-end shoyu or mirin? You would need to bring along something like a Wine Diaper to make sure it gets home in one piece, but I know my Japanese friends really appreciate good shoyu and mirin--especially mirin.

              1. I often talk with my sensei about her hometown, childhood, etc. when we are in the conversation part of our lessons. Perhaps you could use lessons between now and your trip to start a conversation and ask her about her favorite foods, etc. If you bring a favorite food of your own to the lesson it can spark conversation. Or talking about traditions and foods for the upcoming holidays as lead-in.

                It is such a natural choice for conversation practice that she will probably not suspect that you are researching a gift!

                1. Personally, I can't recommend karinto. A lot of Japanese people actually don't care for it, especially younger ones. I can't stand it either. Maybe your teacher might like it. But if you want to surprise her and don't want to ask her what she likes, then you should go with a safe choice... like chocolates, cookies, rice crackers, green tea.

                  Yoku-moku and Fugetsudo (there are two Fugetsudo... the Kobe one and the Tokyo one. go with Kobe and get gaufres or gaufriers) are the classic Japanese gift confectionaries that you can't go wrong with.

                  For chocolates, get Royce's. They actually sell them at Narita's gift shops in the secure area near boarding gates (at least in T1). If you're going to get Royce's, you should get their nama-choco. And if you're going to get the nama-choco, it's probably best to get it right before you board the plane.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chowmouse

                    Have never heard of karinto positioned as an acquired taste of old people. That's a new one. But yeah, there is always the option to buy chocolates, cookies, flavored Kit Kats, Giant Pocky, whatnot at the airport gift shops. The package will be in English and everything.

                  2. I am Japanese but spent a lot of my childhood in UK. Whenever I go back to Japan, I take an empty suitcase and fill it with food to take back to the UK. Most friends do similar things.

                    I don't think I have ever taken back wagashi for myself. I take back Japanese chocolates, sweets, gummy, jagariko and all the "normal" stuff that I ate when I was younger. Also, I take back things that I find hard to get in London or is really expensive. Dashinomoto, katsuobushi, konbu, curry roux, yuzu koshou, instant ramen. (All from donki or 100 yen shops)

                    Some speciality stuff I do take back could be whatever is in fashion at that time. Recently, it would have been yuzu koshou and tabera-yu.

                    These aren't great gifts to be honest but what Japanese people miss when they are away from home. I even knew someone that carried a 10kg bag of rice in her carry on baggage!

                    If you want a nice gift, then I guess not many people will be unhappy to receive alcohol or sweets.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: wongkei

                      Same here. With me, it's always chocolates, powdered instant green tea, black bean cocoa powder, instant soup, dried seaweed/spinach, other condiments, cookies, crackers, etc. While I'll still eat some wagashi, it's not something that gets me excited. I guess our perspectives are different when you're raised as a Japanese. When I want to bring back a gift for our Japanese friends back in the States, I usually get them things like chocolates or yoku-moku, which are always well-received.

                      1. re: chowmouse

                        I forgot about powdered green tea. I also take mugicha/pocari sweat powder too...

                        Yoku-moku is good and I wouldn't be upset to receive them. Same for hato sabure, shiroi koibito, hiyoko etc.

                        However, I agree that our perspectives are different and I know which type of food I would prefer to receive.

                        1. re: wongkei

                          We used to schlep all this type of stuff listed back from Japan in a huge suitcase but these days nearly all of it is available in NYC. We have well-meaning friends who visit from Japan that bring items like this that, we of course politely accept, but have no trouble finding here.

                          I read the original post as "gifts for a teacher" and not "gifts for a homesick Japanese friend". Even if the teacher is younger, something of quality, craft, consideration, nice packaging would probably be a more appropriate cultural gesture than dumping a bag of nori, instant ramen, and convenience store items.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            Yeah, it's changed a lot and we can get most things, but still more expensive. I was in Germany for 2 years and curry roux was 7.99€ for a pack!!

                            Anyway, I didn't necessarily just write to give nori, ramen etc though? I clearly added that they weren't great gifts but the things that we brought back. I also pointed out things that were more giftworthy like sweets and alcohol.

                            1. re: wongkei

                              I use to have a hard time finding yuzu kosho, but can get a hold of several brands these days. Curry's not hard to find at all. We make it all the time. Korean supermarkets carry a lot of Japanese branded packaged goods here in the U.S.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                True, same for London.

                                If the OP was limiting it to things you can't find in US, fair enough. However, she was asking for suggestions so I offered some from a Japanese person's point of view.

                                I remember I used to take Whisky/shortbread from UK to Japan as gifts even though you can buy them in Japan. I don't think they were unappreciated just because they were available domestically? Probably the thought that counts.

                                1. re: wongkei

                                  Thank you everyone for the help. Just returned from my trip. I ended up getting Yoku Muku from Tokyo Station, some chocolates from Mitsuya Ginza and a small can of tea recommended by a salesperson at Daimaru.

                                  I did purchase several suitcases full of other goodies that included Tokyo Bananas and its strawberry equivalent, sesame oil made in Kyoto, spices from Nishiki Market, Calbee chips (the ones you can't get in the US), curry mixes, pound cake from Sembikya, ramen that I can't find here

                                  I did attempt to get a nice soy sauce at Isetan near Shinjuku station but there was a big communication problem between my Japanese and the sales associate's English. They recommended this yellow paper wrapped soy sauce as the best multipurpose soy sauce at 600 YEN. I bought it but was not entirely convinced that was their best soy sauce.

                                  I also did pick up one box of Royce's and some bars at Terminal One. I wasn't also entirely convinced this was the best gift as they came refrigerated and was recommended to purchase an ice pack and freezer bag that only kept it cold for 5 hours when my travel time was greater than 12 hours. Therefore, I saved these for my own personal consumption as I would hate to give someone melted chocolates :)

                                  Rice crackers looked like a good gift except for I did not want they crunched up in the suitcase and become crumbles by the time they got home.

                                  Thank you again for all of your help

                                  1. re: BellaDonna

                                    That's awesome. Sounds like you picked up a lot of goodies. I hope your teacher likes the gift.

                                    Regarding Royce's nama-choco, they do survive the 12-hour flight just fine. Although it's a pain to worry about keeping it cool in transport and stuff, getting the nama-choco is the key and it's well worth it. The other stuff from Royce just doesn't compare.

                      2. re: wongkei

                        This is too late for the OP, but I thought I would add for other who have the same idea that I have brought back Henri Charpentier sweets (Western style with a Japanese twist; first read about them on Chowhound, as a matter of fact) for Japanese friends, and they have been well received.

                      3. Why not ask her? People living away from their own country always long for certain things that they miss.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Querencia

                          I asked her if there was anything she wanted. She gracefully said "no."

                          1. re: BellaDonna

                            Her "no," brings up the subject of, "kinodoku."