How to go shopping in Japan without going bankrupt?

cute cat dolls with one hand waving at people displayed at a shop in Japan

Once I planned our trip to Japan, I put my “Shopping” flag down – Because the nation was expensive for tourists. But now, I joyfully reclaim that adding shopping therapy during Japan trip didn’t tear apart our pocket as much as we thought it would.

This post helps your retail therapy in Japan go beyond buying magnet stickers to meaningful souvenirs.


Is Japan good for shopping?

luxury clothing shop in japan with a pink gorilla in display

Somehow Japan’s handicrafts and artworks stay masked by glamorous and luxurious brands. The latest electronic items reach the top of the shopaholic’s lists, leaving behind some traditional accessories.

Apart from Turkey, I found nowhere else found the possibility of bringing edible things other than chocolates as a souvenir. But Japan’s food items delight you with their versatility and variety.

Is Japan cheap for shopping?

weird wall illustration in Kyoto Japan depicting vagina and midfinger

Yes and No Both – It depends on what you want to shop for.

Like Ashrith, if you had dreamt of shopping for electronic items – Sorry to disappoint you. Because electronic goods in Japan have an ocean of variety & are very expensive! You will find the world’s latest electronics goods here costing you a bomb – apart from iPhone.

Is iPhone cheaper in Japan?

iPhone building in Japan's Tokyo with autmn leaves on ground and sides

You really can’t put iPhones under cheap things to buy. But when you compare apple product prices in India, Japan sells apple products at 40% less cost. In December 2022, iPhone 14 Pro max cost 980 USD in Japan. While the same in India costs more than 1700 USD! I

Is it cheaper to buy designer bags in Japan?

Fendi brand showroom with glittering lights at Ginza Tokyo

You must know that I am a window shopper regarding these luxury goods. As an inquisitive creature, I shamelessly enter these shops and tell them that I am an observer, not a buyer. Yet, somehow I crack a conversation with one person to know the prices – And come out.

billboard for luxury handbag second hand shop in Japan

With that experience, designer bags are cheaper in Japan than in Austria, Greece, Turkey and India. But more expensive than in Germany.

Is Japan good for clothes shopping?

Yes! Especially the winter wears and cotton outfits are of amazing quality. You can’t compare the prices to Sri Lanka. But when you look at the quality, it is worth it.

Things to know before going shopping in Japan.

Man climbing a step up from the mud to building plinth at an old traditional building in Japan
  • Shop opening hours in Japan are usually 10AM to 8PM on weekdays.
  • Convenience stores like 7/11 and Family mart are open 24hrs throughout the week.
  •  Fish and vegetable markets open as early as 7AM and shut post lunch.
  • Many shops remain closed on Japanese national holidays and Sundays,
  • Christmas markets bloom in the evenings of December month. Check them out for winter illumination and some homemade foods.

Shopping Etiquettes in Japan

Japanese waiting in line at a Shopping centre in Japan

Japanese may follow a lot of rules. But they don’t expect tourists to follow everything. Knowing these things makes your Japan retail therapy more enjoyable.

  • Eating and drinking are prohibited in most shops.
  • Be polite while talking to attendees. Because Japanese are always polite.
  • Forget your bargaining skills. No shop in Japan entertains bargaining.
  • Window shopping and asking for the price politely is not an issue.
  • Breaking the line at billing counter is sacrilegious.
  • You have to tell the cashier if you need a plastic bag. (It costs ¥3 – ¥5)
  • Place cash on a money tray. Don’t pass it or place it randomly on the counter.

Never say, “Keep the change.”- Tipping is considered rude in Japan.

brown plastic cash tray on the counter with a miniature tortoise in Japan
  • Don’t expect shopkeepers to give you a discount of even 1 yen unless specified on the product.
  • Japanese clothing sizes are much different than usual. So if you need clarification, seek help from attendees and wait for them to take you to the fitting room.
  • No shoes are allowed in fitting rooms.
  • Receiving any object using a single hand is uncommon and considered rude among Japanese.
  • Most shops & markets don’t allow you to click pictures inside. Ask for permission before clicking.
bamboo made handicraft store in japan with many handmade things
  • The shopkeepers greet you with a smile and a bow. As a foreigner, we may not be familiar with bowing. So, a nod with a smile while you enter the shop is fine.
  • If you need gift wrapping, you must inform the cashier. Sometimes, you may have to do it with the paper they provide.

Do you need to carry cash in Japan?

Japan used to be a mostly cash-based country. But now, using your Master and Visa Credit card for shopping is easy. Some shops accept SUICA cards also. But cash is preferred in Japan’s rural areas.

Can you shop tax-free in Japan?

White and red theme japan tax free shop sticker with sakura motif

Shops with a “Tax-free shopping” sign waive 8% tax on your billing amount. Unlike the EU, you get a tax refund or reduction in the bill then and there.

How can tourists claim a tax refund in Japan?

tourists wearing funny hats walking in Universal studio
  • The purchase should be a minimum of 5000 yen.
  • You must be a foreign visitor with a temporary Visa staying in Japan for less than 6 months.
  • At the time of billing, you must provide your passport.
  • The passport must have the Japan entry stamp you receive at the airport. The cashiers scan that stamp to give you reduction.

Shopping options in Japan.

blue framed glass both with sloped roof surrounded by christmas illumination at night in Tokyo

What makes shopping in Japan a unique, easy, and fun experience is that you have a wide range of options in shops. The luxury brands like Louis Vuitton exist even in train stations next to a humble sweet vendor shops.

Types of shopping centres in Japan are –

Department Stores

Tall glass building of Mitsukoshi by the busy streetside in Tokyo

The basement of a department store features grocery shopping, sweets, bread, flower, prepared meals, and bento boxes. The other floors usually offer luxurious clothing, household goods, and excellent restaurants with fantastic views.

Mitsukoshi in Tokyo’s Nihombashi is the first departmental store in Japan. Wandering here gives you a good idea of how Japanese shopping works.

Speciality Store

game card collection store at Nagano in Japan

These places are exclusive to cosmetics, clothing, costumes, game card, stationery etc. Lemon Inc Shinjuku is an example. It is popular for its range of used digital and film cameras, lenses and equipment.

Electronic Stores.

bright pink office chair with rabbit years in a huge electronic store with hundreds of gadgets stocked in shelf around it at Kyoto Japan

Japan’s electronic stores are the gateway to the future. It gives you an insight into why Japan lives in future. The facilities and items they sell vary from cute robots to portable gas powered stove. Places like Yadobashi Camera and Bic Camera will even have smart currency exchange machines!

Outlet Shopping

Usually located away from the city’s shopping centres, these outlets give you a better deal on brands. The Gotemba outlet is most famous in Japan for its quality and locality with the view of the mighty Fuji.

Shopping Arcades

vaulted roof of Japanese shopping archade with winter illumination at Nagano

These are similar to the bazars of Turkey and Iran – The shopping streets with smaller retail stores on either side of the wide pedestrian pathway are covered with glass vaulted roofs. Affordable food chains like Yoshinoya and local labelless shops attract domestic and foreign tourists.


Every city has markets selling fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables. In many markets, like Toyosu, some part of the market is allowed only for chefs or restaurant representatives, and tourists are refrained from entering. While Kanazawa Sunday fish market is open to all and was the best way to witness how locals buy fish and other weird-looking creatures.

Fish hung from a road with their gut cut opened and cleaned at Kanazawa market in Japan

Mind that Japanese fish markets aren’t for the weak-hearted!

Convenience Stores

Indian man carrying back standing infront of 7/11 super market by the road side

7/11, Family mart, and Lawson are some examples of convenience stores AKA Kombini. In residential areas, you find a Kombini every 100m. While places like Shinjuku, Gion and Dotanburi may have one every 200m.

They sell affordable, fresh, tasty and a variety of bread rolls for breakfast. Their coffee machines give you refreshing Latte & Iced coffee for less price. Cigarettes, Sake, beer, bath items, sanitary pads, heat packets, underwear and an ATM is part of most Kombinis.

Vending Machines

Man using vending machine to take out pink Fanta at a reote Japanese village

As crazy as it sounds, you can buy things that you wouldn’t have imagined to get it from Vending machines. Food, hot coffee, beverages are common. But you can get cute figurines from Gatcha Gatcha, buy undewears from vending machines in Japan! Pay attention when you see a vending machine standing alone by the streetside – It may give you an umbrella or a Kimono set.

Arts and crafts centres

Lacquer painting, metal works, pottery, wooden toys – the Japanese craft list can go further long. These are mainly located near temples and shrines or the oldest neighbourhood of the cities.

Temple and shrine stalls

aerial view of pedestrian path way lined with shops and lights at Asakusa Japan

Stalls, shops and restaurants line the roads to popular temples and shrines. These stalls sell traditional Japanese sweets, ice cream, lamps and rent Kimonos. A unique thing to buy here is a book called “Goshuincho”, aka ” “Honourable Red Stamp Book”. It is a book that collects stamps and records the temples or shrines you visit.

What can foreigners buy in Japan?

Let the long list begin –

1. Japanese Heat Packs – Kairo

You might have used/heard of heat belts as painkillers which use electricity. Mostly, these are meant for killing pain indoors only. But Japan has its own technology to beat the winter without disrupting your outfit and style. This is the most practical, affordable, useful and “Truly made in Japan” souvenir to buy.

Five packets of Japanese heat pack Kairo wrapped in plastic

Japanese heat packs are called Kairo. They are self-heating and for one-time use only. You can buy them at any Kombini cost of 130 yen/ 1 pad. The Pocket Heaters are the basic simple thing to keep in your pocket. While Attachable Sticky Heat Packs are most useful type. Stick it on your thermal wear inside the shirt. It keeps you warm for more than 12 hours, generating up to 40*c heat. Look or ask for “Haro” while buying this.

2. Sake ( Japanese Rice Wine)

transparent glass bottle full of Japanese rice winr and a small white cup kept beside it on the wooden counter at a cafe in Japan

Apart from Sushi, Sake is the most popular Japanese thing in the world. Made using fermented rice, mould, yeast and clean water, Sake has wide varieties. The quality of Sake depends on the degree of polishing the rice. Higher the polishing, the better the taste and more the price. Types of Sake you must know before buying are –

  • Ginjo – minimum 40% of the grain polished away.
  • Daiginjo-minimum, 50% of the grain polished away.

To cut costs and time, some breweries add additional alcohol. 

  • Junmai- no alcohol has been added to the Sake.
  • Honjozo  – a small amount of alcohol has been added to enhance the flavour.
pretty bottle of Hakkaisan brand Sake

So if you see Daiginjo Junmai ( made by polishing away 50% of the grain with no added alcohol), consider that as a premium and pure Sake. Out of all Sake we tried, we loved Hakkaisan Daijingo Junmai. The pretty Hyotan Bottle cost us around 1200 yen for 180ml.

3. Food Ingredients

Japanese soy sauce bottles stocked in a shelf at Japanese market
  • Soy Sauce – The Japanese have a dozen variants in Soy sauces. It is better to buy Dark Soy Sauce which is used as a general seasoning if you don’t know where you will be using it.
    • Beware of crab and fish content in some Soy sauces if you are a vegetarian. Don’t buy the one with seafood extracts like I did and end up giving it to a non-vegetarian friend.
    • Best place to buy Soy sauce is local markets – You can ask for friendly expert local’s opinions
  • Miso paste – This is a paste of fermented Soy Sauce with salt. You can add this to Ramen. Most temple meals give you a spoon of this for Tofu.
small heap of miso paste inside a glass container at Japanese market

4. Edible Souvenirs of Japan


This is a high-class wagashi (Japanese sweet) made using rice flour and refined sugar. Traditional Wasanbon is moulded with patterns according to seasons – Cheery blossoms in spring, maple leaves in fall. These rice flour candies are the easiest authentic souvenirs to carry home as they stay longer without refrigeration.

Best place to buy Wasanbon

Centuries-old shops in the Nihombashi neighbourhood sell traditional and high-quality Wasanbon.

Tokyo Banana 

The signature souvenir of Tokyo. Think of it as how Turkish delights are a thing to Turkiye. This banana-shaped sponge cake has a cream filling and melts magically in one bite. This won’t stay for longer. Hence buying these at the airport is better than purchasing them during your trip.


unusual bars of kitkat flavours in japan

Apart from Sushi and Sake, Japan’s next most popular is Kitkats. How can a British company Nestles be more popular in Japan than elsewhere? – Because in any given year, there are about 40 flavours available, including the core flavour — plain milk chocolate!

Why do the Japanese like Kit Kat?

The name KitKat resembles the phrase “Kitto Katsu”, meaning “surely win”, a term for good luck in Japan! So the Japanese consider this as a good luck gift. To battle Japan’s local brand chocolates, Nestle cleverly launched various flavour which is true to Japan – Green Tea, Strawberry, Wasabi, Banana and so on! 

Where can I buy unusual KitKats in Japan?

unusual bars of kitkat flavours in big packs stocked in the shelves of a convenience store in japan

Kit Kat chocolatory in Shinjuku used to be the place to make your own flavours of chocolate and buy other flavours. Post Covid, this place is closed forever. You find these in supermarkets across Japan and airports for the same price.

5. Furoshiki

colourful fabrics hung infront of a traditional japanese wooden builing at Kyoto in Japan

Like us, you may wonder at historical area shops why they hand square pieces of fabric which resemble scarves on their display. Trust me; it is a unique souvenir you can shop for in Japan.

gifts wrapped with colourful fabrics traditional in traditional Japanese way kept for displat behind glass at a shop in Japan

The large piece of fabric, “Furoshiki”, comes in various sizes. And Japanese used it to wrap their travel items or lunch boxes. Now it is often used to wrap gifts.

6. Clothing

When you travel on Japan’s Public Transport, especially subways, you will realise how well Japanese dress up. Their cutting-edge fashion style is impeccable. If you fall in love with the Japanese fashion sense and want to take home the class with you, here are your options.

Heads Up – I don’t recommend buying Kimonos. Rent and wear it with the help of shop attendees in Japan. They aren’t really comfy and may not be the best souvenir.

Western clothing

uniqlo brand store with yellow wall and jackets placed nicely

Uniqlo brand is best for winter wear and western clothing. There are 870+ Uniqlo stores in Japan. UNIQLO Ginza Store, with 12 floors, is the largest of all their 2700+ stores worldwide.

Japanese Kawai and Harajuku style clothing 

trendy girls clothes at a showroom in Harajuku of Japan

If you love to add Japanese school girls’ uniforms to your wardrobe, head to Harajuku in Tokyo. You get everything from high-heeled wedges to pop colour jackets and other weird costumes in Harajuku’s Takeshita street.

Samue and jinbei

indigo, black and grey striped pure soft cotton pant and loose topwear set called Samue and jinbei in a Japanese market

Traditional cotton clothing dyed with a solid colour such as indigo, blue or green. They both come in a matching set of a top and trousers.


two Sumo wrestlers stretching legs in their stable wearing underwear draped using long fabrics

After watching Sumo wrestlers, you can’t help if you wonder about their undergarments. When we asked our guide, he explained how Sumo wrestlers use a 3m long cotton fabric as underwear. Stores selling Fundoshi in Japan are rare. But we found one in Tokyo.


You can’t imagine to what extent Japanese manufacturers detail merch. And the mania for the same among the Japanese is hilarious.

ghibli charecter no face on display

Being the homeland of Ghibli, Nintendo and many more, you find stores with miniatures of many of these characters. Osaka and Tokyo are the hotspots for buying merchs in Japan.

  • Ghibli store’s official name is DONGURI, and there are over 40 shops in Japan.
  • Universal Studios in Japan may give you a dozen other merchs. But nothing better than visiting Nintendo stores in Tokyo.
tamashi nations toys
  • Tamashi Nations toys can be found in stores like BIC camera and Edon. The proportions and details of these figurines are shockingly accurate and cute.

8. Japanese Dolls

Japanese old lay miiature doll in traditional dress

I have never enjoyed shopping for dolls as I did in Japan – “Making everything Cute” is one of their multiple talents. So shopping for toys in Japan can go beyond “Hello Kitty Stores.”

Older towns and stalls near temples are the best place to find traditional Japanese dolls.

What are traditional Japanese dolls called?

cute Japanese girl miniature doll in white floral print kimono holding an umbrella

Japanese dolls are called Ningyo. Needless to say, detail-oriented Japanese have classified these dolls further – Geisha dolls, emperor and empress dolls and so on. The appearance and the outfits of the dolls vary drastically.

traditional wooden dolls of Japan
  • Kokeshi Dolls are made of wood and have a cylindrical bodies.
  • Daruma is a round-shaped red and yellow doll that is considered a symbol of luck.
  • “Maneki-Neko” – the waving lucky cat is what most foreigners buy as souvenirs in Japan. 

9. Japanese Handicrafts

I wonder if it is just us who don’t hear much about Japanese handmade crafts or you! Some of the handicrafts you can shop in Japan if you have a wider budget are –

Kaga Temari 

cotton thread balls at Kanazwa

“Mother Makes a Handball for Her Daughter’s Wedding.” is the story behind these cotton balls authentic to Kanazawa. And this art piece is now used as lanterns and is called “Kanazawa Lights.”

Yosegi Zaiku – The Hakone-born art form utilises the natural colours of the various trees. Pieces of various trees are shaved/carved/chipped and come together to create a hypnotic, subtly coloured geometrical pattern. You can call it the Mosaic art of wood.

Ceramics Sake cups

white ceramic curvy sake bottle and two small ceramic sake cups kep beside it on the counter

If you have Sake, surely you will notice Sake bottles and special cups. They are cute, small and easy to carry in suitcases. We found more shops selling these near Nagano temple and Gion District.


swan kind of figurine made by folding paper origami in Japan

The art form of “folding papers to create figures” has its route in Japan. You find origami sets of Gibli characters and also giant castles. This can be a great “Brain teaser” souvenir to take home from Japan as a tourist.

Chopsticks – For obvious reasons – It really feels good have a tiny part of Japanese food culture at home.

Japanese knives 

highly sharpened japanese knives for cutting tuna fish kept on table at a market in Japan

Japanese are particular about fish in every aspect. The taste, quality and thickness of their slices. So Japanese handmade knives are made with precision to suit master chefs. Hence, buying them at Hiroshima or Toyosu market may take you one step closer to being a master chef.

10. Art & Stationary Supplies

different sizes of unique painting brushes with various size and thickness of Bristles  on display at an art supply sotre in Japan

After talking so much about Japanese art and crafts, we need to know what modern-day Japanese artists go shopping for. There are many such stores in Tokyo. Pigment in Shinagawa is the most colourful, where you can customise the colours with pigments or buy readily available. There are hundreds of types of brushes, including some traditional ones. 

most vivid display of pigments in a bottle stocked in shelf  at an art supply store in Japan

The oil pastel pearl colour set of 12 colours that I bought cost me 7000 yen.

11. Incense sticks

Japan isn’t famous for perfumes. But their incense sticks smell divine. Buying them in temples works out cheaper than elsewhere.

12. Accessories for women

Japanese women love to add charms to their bags and phones. The handbags they carry may be Prada, but they will add a “dangling bag charm” to them.

Omamori – Lucky charms! It can be beads or even a cute owl!

mount fuji themed wooden bag charms

Kanzashi – Hair ornaments are essential for kimonos and Geishas. Sakura-themed hair accessories are a statement piece to be added to your attire.

fabric folded into jewellery piece

Earrings with fabric – Tsumami Zaïku is the traditional art of folding cloth to form flower petals, which was developed over 200 years ago in Japan. Similar smaller folds have become part of Japanese earrings and make unique jewellery.

sakura themed long earrings with perals and silk

13. Skin Care Products

When you sit at a park to observe Japanese, you will notice 99% of them have flawless skin. Since ancient Japan, pale skin has been the main tool defining some beauty. Is that why Geisha paint their face almost white?-Maybe? At my capsule hotel shower area, I observed Japanese women following a brief face-washing ritual for 15 minutes. Hence the term “J-Beauty” originated.

Japanese man clicking photo of a weird statue of a girl wearing makeup

Globally, Japan is the second-largest market for beauty products. So you can never go wrong if you shop for Skincare Products in Japan.

In malls and departmental stores, numerous beauty products are stocked on the shelf. So you must have some knowledge of which products to go for. 

The only thing I could understand was hand creams with glycerin and some face washes. A friend of mine who is into the skincare product business and has been to Japan recommends products from DHC. 

14. Electronic items

alien on computer display next to a weird sound system

So to learn how ahead the Japanese have gone electronically, you must invade at least one large electronic store in Japan. Even better, head to Akihabara – Ashrith calls it the “Treasure land.”

Are electronic goods cheaper in Japan?

Not exactly. We expected it to be much cheaper; even second-hand goods are expensive but of the highest quality.

Man with a broad smile holding new Nintendo sitch box in Japanese electronic store

Yet buying the latest Nintendo Switch in Japan brought a giant smile to my man’s face. 

15. Video Game Souvenirs

antique video game accessories at super potato store in Tokyo

As a kid, if you have played Islander, Bomberman, Mario, Duck hunt and Pacman on a Nintendo console in the 1990s, you will surely get nostalgic if you enter Super Potato in Akihabara. They sell old cassettes, remotes and everything else at an affordable price. 

16. Japan’s Umbrellas

tourists wearing black hoodie jacket walking in historical streets of Kyoto with traditional buildings with umbrellas on their roofs

Traditional Japanese umbrellas called “Wagasa” are made of paper and bamboo. They are artsy. But may not be practical for regular use. Instead, go for transparent umbrellas that you can find in any Kombinis for less than 700 Yens! Whether it is snowing or raining, these see-through umbrellas never block your sight and add beauty to your photos in snowfall.

Japanese woman carrying  transparent umbrella opened in historical street of Kyoto

The usual souvenirs I didn’t find it’s worth

  • Matcha tea powder – Signature drink of Japan is surely healthy. But the taste isn’t a personal preference.
  • Japanese silk – Expensive and I have seen better quality silk for the same price.
Japanese fans stocked up in a shop
  • Japanese fans – Fans that were under our budget weren’t any different from what you get in Vietnam or China. The hand-painted traditional paper fans prices were over the roof.
  • Traditional Japanese Sandals Geta – Not so comofrtable.
  • Ninja and Samurai Souvenirs – Apart from the figurines, nothing else was in our budget range!
  • Things from 100 yen shop – Honesly, we both found 100 yen shop tacky and made for tourists solely. The fridge magnets and key chains could be found anywhere else.

How was your experience with shopping in Japan as a tourist? Let us know in the comment section below.

Ghibli charecter totoro carring a bag flowers

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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