Omiyage. The gift of giving. The Japanese have elevated the art of giving gifts to ridiculous proportions. They give a gift for EVERYTHING, as evidenced by the ridiculous availability of gift items everywhere - on street corners, temples, train stations, stores. I can't walk 25 feet without being faced with gift options [many times in the form of food]. Whenever I go to Japan, it's usually months of planning and purchasing of gifts for my family members. It used to be so easy when I was a kid - my mom took care of everything. As an adult, I'm on my own. Added to that, since my brothers haven't gone to Japan in years, for the first time there was the new aspect of, "What are my brothers getting for everyone??". None of us wanted to be the dud gift giver.
I'm blessed to have a large family in Japan. Although my first cousins and I live an ocean [and sometimes a language] apart, we've managed to stay pretty close. I know that my cousins spend just as much time scouring the countryside to find new, unique things for us to see, eat, and do - things they know I would enjoy! Some things that I received and picked up myself in Japan included:
Mandoline. The Japanese really know how to make 'em. You can adjust the width of your slices from .3mm up to 5mm thick! I've seen this at stores in Los Angeles for about $100. This was about $30 in Japan.
Let me first confirm one thing - I can't really read Japanese above a 1st grade level [I'm being seriously generous here]. That doesn't stop my from TRYING to read these magazines. Haru.mi is a beautifully done magazine [she's like the Martha Stewart of Japan].
Aritsugu is located in Nishiki Market in Kyoto. They've got some beautiful knives but as my mom was standing over my shoulder, giving me the look that said, "buy it. i dare you, 'you who doesn't cook enough to deserves knives this nice.'" I ended up with some nice wagashi molds [nadeshiko on the left; fan on the right] and a sakura shaped onigiri mold instead.
Sake. I was told that the Okayama prefecture has one of the greatest numbers of microbreweries of sake in Japan. We weren't able to get in tastings at these particular sake breweries due to my time constraints so my aunt and uncle made sure we had something to taste. [Hopefully, my brother still hasn't managed to find my blog, therefore will continue to have no idea that I kept these bottles for my own personal consumption...]
Sakura Essence. Thank you, La Fuji Mama. If it wasn't for her, I'd never have discovered this. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have known where to send my cousin to pick it up for me. Luckily, that wasn't the case. Now my cousin is thrilled to have discovered a new shopping location in Tokyo.
Green tea. Yes, you can get that here in the states but what I love about this particular green tea is that it was harvested from an area only a few hours away from this Nishiki Market location and roasted on site. I'm excited to open this batch of tea up!! [and at $20 and ounce, it'd better be a life changing experience...]
Yuzu Koshio. I don't know why it's taken me so long to discover this. I love this crap. I had it for the first time at Ippudo Ramen in Okayama. Holy cow, it's excellent - salty chili paste with hints of yuzu. I licked my plate clean of this.