Finding quality souvenirs, something instantly identifiable, unique, and easy to carry home is the bane of every traveler. Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture is the same, like all areas catering to the tourist trade, the souvenir shops carry the obligatory T-shirts, key chains, and the ever-growing array of Japanese sweets and regional delicacies, some of which may pose a problem with authorities and quarantine when bringing back to your home country.
The following is a list of suggested unique, quality souvenirs ideal as gifts or for yourself from Aichi Prefecture and Nagoya City.
One of the iconic symbols of Nagoya is the Kin-shachihoko, the golden tiger-fish perched atop of the magnificent Nagoya Castle. These shachihoko decorative devices were fitted to castles and temples as good luck charms, and were believed to protect the structures they graced from fire. In the case of Nagoya Castle, the great golden rooftop fittings also became a highly noted symbol of the power and might of the Owari Tokugawa clan. The original shachihoko on Nagoya Castle stood 2.5m high, and were made from 280kg of gold! (The modern-day figures contain only 43.39kg of gold.)
These elegant, smooth flowing, long lasting and well-balanced pens open with a twist of the narrow metallic barrel and come in either black or champagne gold, with a small, well depicted kin-shachi figure at the top. Available only from the Nagoya Castle Honmaru Goten Palace Museum Shop.
Traditional Shibori tie-dyeing techniques have been a specialty of the Nagoya region since the early Edo period (1600-1868) when dyeing craftsmen were encouraged to set up their studios and shops along the Tokaido highway linking the capital, Kyoto, with the Shogun’s seat of power in Edo (modern-day Tokyo).
Arimatsu Shibori tie-dyeing techniques feature an array of intricate patterns created from closely knotted thread-tied cloth, which are repeatedly dyed in rich, dark indigo. The wide range and appealing styles of patterns created have helped to maintain the popularity of this craft over the centuries.
Travelers, samurai, merchants and pilgrims walking the Tokaido Highway would stop by the post town of Arimatsu to purchase the much-prized cloth and products, further enhancing and spreading its reputation across the nation. Arimatsu itself remains mostly as it was 400 years ago, with antique houses, shops, and warehouses from the samurai period lined up along the original Tokaido. Despite the art form enjoying renewed popularity, the numbers of properly trained artisans able to replicate the sophisticated and time-consuming thread winding processes and the special tie-dyeing techniques are diminishing, and so the craftwork is currently at a premium. Despite being offered for sale at major up market department stores, the best range, and the best prices for this exceptional quality craft is naturally, Arimatsu. At least visit for the products, if not the history and culture of this traditional town.
The official marine life symbol of Aichi Prefecture is the shrimp, and there are many different types of popular shrimp crackers on the market, however, “Yukari” made by Nagoya’s Bankaku Company since 1666 and long recognized as a favorite of the samurai, nobility and royalty are considered the finest. Available in distinctive gold colored tin boxes embellished with images of Nagoya Castle and Tokugawa Ieyasu as sets of 10, 18 and 27, these crackers are particularly chosen as noted and appreciated gifts in respectful Japanese society. Available from Nagoya Station souvenir stores, airports, department stores and selected kiosks around Nagoya.
The samurai were required to carry their swords, sheaths of washi paper, and folding fans with them. Nagoya’s traditionally made folding fans were of the style carried by the samurai. Thicker, stronger, and considered more “manly” than the ornamental folding fans of Kyoto used by the dancers, aristocrats and nobility, they remained in high demand across feudal Japan from the early 1700’s. One of the oldest remaining hand crafted fan producers is Suehirodo, still making a range of fine fans as commemorative gifts for weddings, births, and events. Like many of Japan’s traditional hand crafts, skilled artisans are aging and fewer in numbers today, leaving the industry faced with difficulties in maintaining and preserving these traditional skills and techniques, meaning that these souvenirs will become prized treasures in the near future.
These Nagoya Sensu folding fans can be found at the Suehirodo workshop display room, around the Osu Kannon Shopping Arcade, and certain quality department stores.
Of Japan’s famous “Six Ancient Kilns”, the six most creative, valued, and traditional ceramics production areas, two were based in Aichi Prefecture. Tokoname to the south, and Seto in the central districts still produce a wealth of traditional and contemporary styles of tea cups and tea pots, plates, bowls, vases, both ornamental and functional, and highly valued by collectors and connoisseurs. Despite their high quality and fame, the prices of these works are most reasonable. Enjoy strolling the ancient streets of these towns, and enjoying the atmosphere and the works of the many traditional potters.
Many of the popular Maneki Neko, beckoning cat figurines available across Japan are also produced in Tokoname, and these too make fine, inexpensive souvenirs of Japan.
Aichi Prefecture has a reputation for brewing history. Quality sake is brewed in Aichi using its clear, clean natural waters, and high yields of fine rice, ideal for the production of quality sake. The most popular is the Kuheiji brand, produced in Aichi since 1647 and offering over 13 varieties of sake, including the popular Junmai Daiginjo and Ginjo range.
Another perennial favorite is Horaisen, founded in 1864 in the natural environs of the remote north eastern districts of Aichi. The Horaisen line-up includes a number of sake so popular, they are available only through advanced order, or varieties only available at certain times of year. The general consensus is that if it’s either Kuheiji or Horaisen, you can’t go wrong.
There are only about 18 professional traditional candle craftsmen still plying their trade in Japan. Two of those 18 reside in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture’s famous castle city and birthplace of the first Edo Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. With a history of over 1,500 years, Wa-Rosoku, as the traditional candles are known, emit a steadier, softer, warmer light than western candles thanks to their carefully treated wicks of tightly wound washi paper, and being made from natural vegetable waxes, have neither the smell nor smoke produced by paraffin or other candles.
Master Craftsman Matsui of Okazaki still makes the candles by hand, and you can see him at work in his shop, layering each candle up to 300 times These candles retain their traditional shape, being slightly conical, wider at the top, tapering inwards. The candles produced by master Matsui include hand painted decorative pieces that can be displayed or even used at home.
Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.