With my nomadic life and my reality of living out of a suite case (literally a backpack and a carry-on) I never buy souvenirs or gifts. Not for me or for anyone else. But knowing that souvenir giving is a customary tradition in Korea and the fact that I would “unload” what I took to Korea before continuing my travels, I felt that I had to do some shopping in Tokyo.
So I did.
Oh how I love these 100 yen shops, let me count the ways… Sure, there are the big Daiso stores that also sell 100 yen items but I have a soft spot for these small cramped neighborhood 100 yen stores where everything really is ~$1.
I also like 麻布十番かりんと Azabu-jūban Karinto where you can get dozens of different flavored deep fried crackers, ranging from chocolate to burdock root. I sometimes pop in just to get a bite of some samples…
But sometimes I end up buying a whole bunch of them. When it rains, they will put on a plastic “rain coat” over the bag so that the contents won’t get wet and soggy.
On the other corner is 豆源 Mamegen where they’ve been making delicious traditional Japanese snacks out of beans and peanuts since 1865. This is their main store where you can see them making some of the yummy things through the workshop window. They usually have a few items to try just like they do at Azabu-jūban Karinto. I can’t pass it by without taking a few peanuts… my absolute favorite is their matcha flavor, along with their best seller which are nuts with five different varieties of crunchy shells. The mozzarella covered almonds are curiously good and their shiokaki, salted deep-fried rice crackers, are famously addictive.
There are a couple of supermarkets and convenient stores in the neighborhood where you can shop for Japanese groceries (as well as imported items). I picked up some interesting condiments and spices as gifts. I like Japanese curries (packaged to be heated and eaten), various dried flakes to sprinkle over hot bowls of rice (plum, salmon, etc), real/raw wasabi paste, things like shiokōji (rice malt fermented in salt), yuzukoshō, and whatnot.
My last stop for the day was at 麻の葉 Asa no Ha for some 手ぬぐい tenugui, hand dyed Japanese cloth. I purchased tenugui in Asakusa before and was thinking of returning there, but I was happy to do a bit of shopping at this small shop near where I lived. The shopkeeper was incredibly nice and I liked that their selection included traditional Japanese prints as well as modern designs.
I got a few smaller ones as gifts and bought a little something for myself to commemorate my Mt. Fuji climb.
That was more than enough shopping for me and it will be a long while before I do any more. But even if I weren’t shopping, I think Azabu-jūban is a great neighborhood… ah, there is a fantastic soba restaurant there, too. I’ll have to post that another day.
Other places to check out in Azabu-jūban is the French bakery Boulangerie Mont-Thabor where the local residents flock to for their bread and pastry needs. They are known for their Hokkaido Milk Bread which earned a Monde Selection silver medal in Bruxelles in 2012 but they have all kinds of yummy treats that cross the Western-Eastern boundaries. For something decidedly more Japanese, I love this shop called Sennen Koujiya (also found in Kagurazaka) to pick up delicious Japanese ingredients and condiments.
I kept myself in check by not getting one but should you be tempted, Floresta Nature Doughnuts just on the other side of Asa no Ha does nice Japanese style doughnuts. Japanese style doughnuts are simple- not dipped, sprinkled, or covered with anything. They are just a tad bit sweet but also a bit salty, has a crunchy first bite but is sufficiently soft and moist inside.
Floresta Nature Doughnuts: various locations in Tokyo.