What should I bring back from Japan?

Awfulknitter
Joined: 8 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 51 weeks 5 days ago.

I'm off to Japan in a couple of weeks, so now that all the arrangements are made I've started to wonder what I'll be able to bring back. (I know it won't be as much as I want!) I probably can't go for anything heavy, bulky or perishable, and I'm going to try really hard to avoid going crazy on bento accessories, because I already have enough that I don't use regularly enough.

So I was wondering if anybody had any recommendations of things that you can only get in Japan that would make a difference to cooking Japanese-style. The only thing I've thought of so far is a drop lid! I'm never convinced that the recommendation to make parchment/foil ones work as well.

Oh, and I'll probably get some pickled plums. I love them, but the only place I know does them in the UK is the Japan Centre, which isn't exactly close to where I live...

Can I ask another question too? I've read that it's not very common for credit cards issued outside of Japan to be accepted in shops. I'm quite happy to carry cash, but I think I might have a spending binge or two it would be nice to just stick it all on the card without having to total up my purchases and check my purse! Is it likely that large stores (I'm thinking my main destinations are going to be department stores, Loft, Kinokuniya) will be happy with a UK Visa card?

If anyone's interested, our itinterary takes in Toyko, Hakone, Matsumoto, Kyoto, and Takayama. So any recommendations linked to those places would also be welcome!

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Loretta
Moderator
Bento-ing from: London › UK
Joined: 4 Mar 2009
User offline. Last seen 38 weeks 9 hours ago.
Re: What should I bring back from Japan?

With sites like Rakuten having shops with an online presence that will send things to the UK via SAL I find that it's less and less important to buy light goods (such as nori, konbu, katsuobushi, wakame, hijiki) in Japan. It is the bulky goods that I bring back when I go there. One thing that is difficult to have sent from an online retailer is seeds.
Since you are based in the UK the legality of bringing back seeds is different to having them brought to the USA or NZ or Australia, so my shopping (especially at this time of the year) would include a packet or two of shiso. So long as the plants aren't growing (like a nagaimo tuber) you should have no problems importing them. Maki has more suggestions here: http://www.justhungry.com/dozen-japanese-herbs-and-vegetables-grow
(You can get shiso in the UK but I was disappointed with my crop last year and have some seeds on the way from Tokyo to try this season)
A pickle jar with a screw down lid (the ones with springs are usually cheaper, these are good too) is hard to get outside of Japan and expensive to ship.
A Benriner mandolin is about half the price in Japan than in the UK.
Likewise a good quality square/rectangle egg pan.

As for ingredients, the change from many airlines to a piece concept for luggage rather than the measly 20kgs of weight I used to get meant that my own shopping list consists more of these artisan quality ingredients which are difficult to acquire in London.
Good vinegar
Good soy sauce
Good miso
And, where possible; high quality sesame oil
A huge tetrabrik container of sake/nihonshu for cooking with saves me a lot of money
yuzu or/and sudachi juice (small container only, goes off VERY quickly). If you like spicy/hot tastes then yuzu koshou might be more useful. Otherwise dried yuzu peel is, for me, a good ingredient.
Tea - great to try before I buy and I love making new discoveries

Do try as many kinds of umeboshi as you can. There is a huge variety of sizes, textures and flavours for this one food so keep sampling before you settle on which ones to bring back.

For bringing back as gifts I get a big tin of rice crackers (these go by a variety of names such as senbei or kakimochi, quality and taste ranges from meh to amazing, definitely another try before you buy product). If there's no room in my luggage I send the rice crackers back by SAL or another economic method.

Maki posted a photo of some exceptional foods sent to her from her mother. I'd be happy to add any of these to my luggage:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/makiwi/206883866/
You should be able to find some amazing soba kits (dried soba and soba tsuyu) in Takayama and Matsumoto.

Have fun , and enjoy the much improved JPY-GBP exchange rate!

Awfulknitter
Joined: 8 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 51 weeks 5 days ago.
Re: What should I bring back from Japan?

Seeds! I hadn't thought of seeds! I have grown shiso before (I think the seeds must have come from either Nicky's Nursery or the Organic Garden Catalogue), and I had so much I didn't know what to do with it. I think I'd like to try some kabocha, I'll have to see how much room in the garden they'd take up.

Thanks for all the other suggestions, I appreciate you taking the time to write such a long reply. So many options, so little suitcase space!

maki
admin
Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 1 week 3 days ago.
Re: What should I bring back from Japan?

Awfulknitter (I'm sure you're not awful at all!), regarding credit cards, if you have Mastercard or Visa with chip card - the type you insert into a machine and input a passcode - you should have very little problem using them in Japan, at stores that accept credit cards - which are increasing all the time. American Express is less accepted, but large department stores and such do accept them. ATMs at 7-11 convenience stores and the post office accept most overseas cash/debit cards. It is convenient (and pretty safe) to carry around cash in Japan since smaller stores in out of the way places may not accept credit cards.

One thing you should be sure to do before you leave is to let your credit card issuing company know you are going overseas, since some of them are overly vigilant about 'fraud' and think any use outside of your home country is fraud.

(For the benefit of any Americans listening in: unfortunately the luggage allowance to/from the US and Japan has decreased to just one bag of up to 20kg or something. This is half the allowance from before. For some reason the Europe-Japan allowance, which used to be the smaller number, is now doubled. I don't know why this is and it's weird and annoying. Also, Americans who have the non-chip type credit cards may run into problems using them on occasion. You should use your credit card stragetically in Japan; they are usually accepted at larger stores and hotels, and not so much at smaller stores.)

____________________________________

The Big Onigiri.

- Wherever you go, there you are. -

Awfulknitter
Joined: 8 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 51 weeks 5 days ago.
Re: What should I bring back from Japan?

One credit card company is overly vigilant about transactions I try to make in THIS country, so I was definitely planning to let them know. Strategic spending does sound like the sensible plan, so thanks for the advice, there are some things that I like confirmed from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Er, not that I'm calling you a horse!

It does feel very odd to hear advice to carry lots of cash, it's the exact opposite of anywhere else I've travelled to! But there you go, I don't travel for things to always be the same.

Loretta
Moderator
Bento-ing from: London › UK
Joined: 4 Mar 2009
User offline. Last seen 38 weeks 9 hours ago.
Re: What should I bring back from Japan?

One last thing, there is a discussion on Tripadvisor that all foreign issued credit cards EXCEPT for Visa are not working in Japan.
It's a difficult subject to keep abreast off as this situation has changed for me from visit to visit.
The tip about telling your bank that you are travelling is definitely a good one (my bank once cut me off over a Christmas New Year period )

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