Kyoto holds a history of more than 1200 years and offers many masterpiece products that breathe Japanese aesthetics and culture. Here are some elegant products that are known throughout the world.
1. Folding fans from Miyawaki Baisenan
Folding fans is one Japanese souvenir that is sure to be a hit. Miyawaki Baisenan opened in 1823 and ever since then they've become a renowned shop that continues the techniques and tradition of the craft. In 1959 when the crown prince got married, he offered celebratory fans from Baisenan. They have a variety of options, including cloth folding fans, wooden painted fans (hiougi), decorative fans like dancer's fans, as well as fans designed in collaboration with famous select shops. They actively try to push the envelope when it comes to the culture of folding fans. You can buy most of their wares for about 4,000 JPY. The labor is split up into 88 tasks, and it takes about 70-80 craftsmen and painters to completely make one of these fans by hand. It's a perfect souvenir for people who like to feast their eyes.
Product: decorative folding fan "Cherry Blossoms and Autumn Leaves"
Photo source (product manufacturer):Miyawaki Baisenan Co.,Ltd.
2. Konpeito (sugar candy) from Ryokujuan-Shimizu
Konpeito is a sugar candy that was brought over from Portugal. Originally it was a high-class item that was prized among the upper classes like politicians, rich samurai, tea ceremony masters, and the like. There is only one shop specializing in konpeito in all of Japan, and that is Ryokujuan-Shimizu, a shop that has 150 years of history.
The konpeito from Rokujuan-Shimizu is handmade by craftsmen that have skilled techniques and who are mindful of the temperature and humidity as they work. There is no recipe to making konpeito, and it's said to take 20 years to properly learn the techniques behind making this sugar treat. One kind of konpeito can take 16-20 days to make by hand. Even as they continue the traditional ways, they do create konpeito using different ingredients and flavors, so they have around 60 flavors on offer. No matter which flavor you choose, they're rich and aromatic, earning them the name of being one of Japan's best products. These konpeito aren't just a regular sweet, but a product that holds precious tradition and techniques in its creation.
3. Namafu and yakifu from Hanbey-Fu
Hanbey-Fu is a store that offers fu (seitan) and yuba (tofu skin) and has since 1689. They have continued to offer the traditional taste by being particular about the water and ingredients they use to make their products. Seitan is a gluten product made from wheat that has attracted attention due to it being high in protein but low in calories. Namafu is steamed seitan that is soft and satisfyingly chewy, while yakifu is grilled and dried seitan that won't fall apart during cooking. While it's often used in Japanese cooking, it's especially popular in Kyoto cuisine. Its juiciness makes it one of the best ingredients used in Kyoto cuisine. The price changes depending on the type and amount, but the smallest bag is about 300 JPY. Please try seitan - you'll get addicted to it. The main branch is near Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Main Line.
This photo shows a product called "Soup de Ofu," made by the cafe Fufufu-an that's managed by Hanbey-Fu. This restaurant offers new ways of eating seitan and is near the main branch.
4. Chidorisu from Murayama Zousu
Murayama Zousu's Chidorisu is a rice vinegar that's handmade in Kyoto and has been for the past 260 years. Chidorisu uses natural ingredients and an ancient brewing method that takes a long time, making it a required seasoning in Japanese cooking. It isn't an exaggeration to say that all pro chefs in Japan know the name Chidorisu. It's not pungent and has a characteristic mellow acidity that pulls the sweetness and umami from the rice because the brewing method pulls out the best flavors of the ingredients. The price depends on the size, but the smallest bottle is 360ml and can be bought for about 500 JPY. It's a rice vinegar that's relatively easy to handle even for people who don't like the usual smell of rice vinegar, so it's worth giving a try.
5. Nishijin textiles from Watabun
Watabun is a well-known shop for Nishijin textiles that opened in 1906. The division of labor used for their obi (kimono belts) is thoroughly done by specialists: the person who drafts the design, the person that spins the silk thread, the person that dyes the thread, the person that creates the warp (tension) in the machine, the weaver - every person is a professional at their particular task. Since obi don't have as many restrictions in their design like kimono, Watabun has earned a lot of praise and attention from overseas thanks to its many individualistic designs. They also manage the Orinasukan, a textile museum and shop housed in a traditional machiya. They have items such as neckties made with weaving techniques (about 15,000 JPY) and Nishijin furoshiki wrapping cloths (about 3,000 JPY), stuff that is perfect for souvenirs. They also have a 3 hour course where you can weave your own item under the careful guidance of a craftsman for 5,000 JPY, so this is definitely one place you should stop by if you come to Kyoto.
These are all products that really allow you to feel the charms of Kyoto. If you visit Kyoto, definitely search for some of these items.
*Please note that the prices and other information in the article may not be the most up-to-date information