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Kyoto’s Best Traditional Japanese Art Gifts

It is a very well known that the Japanese are big on giving gifts. It is quite normal to return home with a gift from your travels as it shows your family and friends that you thought of them during your travels. Japan’s extensive omiyage (souvenir) culture makes it easy to get gifts for family and friends. As the cultural capital of Japan, Kyoto is one of the best places to get a beautiful traditional omiyage to take back home to friends and family. But sometimes it’s quite difficult to know exactly what would make great gifts. Here are nine of the best traditional Japanese art gifts you can give to your family and friends.

1. Washi

Washi is a traditional Japanese paper made from the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub, or Kouzo, a Japanese paper mulberry. Washi has been used for many things throughout the history of Japan including fans, doors, screens, writing and shodo paper, origami, books, scrolls, painting and more. The process for making washi is quite intense as it is processed by hand in a traditional manner.  Despite the thinness of washi, it is tougher than wood pulp paper since the plant fibers are longer than wood. The strength and the beauty of the washi make it a great omiyage.

2. Kyoto Doll

Japanese dolls, known under the umbrella term Kyoto dolls, are beautifully crafted dolls wearing traditional Japanese clothing. They were originally made for aristocratic girls to play with during the Heian period but later became a very much sought after omiyage since the Edo period. Even the adults would play with these dolls acting out court life. They are very beautiful and well crafted. They embody the essence of Heian and traditional Japan. These Japanese dolls would make great display pieces and will remind you and your family of the Japanese experience.

3. Woodblock Prints

Woodblock prints are best known under the technique of Ukiyo-e. It is the art of using carved wooden blocks to print pictures on washi paper that tell a story with every print.  The most common things that are depicted with Ukiyo-e woodblock prints are images of women, folktales, historical events, sumo wrestlers, kabuki actors and more. Another less known form is Karakami woodblock prints. This form is heavily inspired by nature and the colors of Kyoto using sparkly dust known as Kira and pigments to create soft, but aesthetically commanding prints. It was most enjoyed by upper-class people in the past and used on walls and slide doors.

4. Lacquerware

Kyoto style lacquerware is characterized by its delicate finishes, sharp corners, and refined designs. Lacquerware products are products made from wood then coated with lacquer. One technique known as Maki-e involves carving pictures into the lacquer and sprinkling the pictures with gold or silver dust for an elegant, royal finish. The beautiful lacquerware that Kyoto produces will surely have your friends and family feeling as if they were a part of the royal court during the Heian period of Japan. They will also make a stunning display for anyone who loves specialty dishes or trunks.

5. Ceramics

Japanese ceramic goods also known as tojiki, yakimono, and togei, are a great item to take back home as an omiyage. It is one of the oldest art forms in Japan that dates back to the Neolithic period. The fact that it has been around for so long means that the techniques used to create such magnificent works of art has been refined into a power-craft that embodies the Japanese aesthetics of beauty, especially the aesthetic of wabi-sabi or beauty in imperfection.  Kiyomizu pottery is also a beautiful form of ceramics that can be bought as omiyage. Whether it be pots, bowls, cups, or trinkets, Japanese ceramics will make a great gift.

6. Bamboo Products from Arashiyama

The art of bamboo dates back to the 19th century. Bamboo artist today are guided by the traditional sense of art and beauty while creating modern sculptures and home decor infused with such traditional senses. You can buy anything from table and dinnerware to boxes, to fans, blinds, sculptures, lanterns and lights, light shades, baskets, tea cups, vases, and more. One popular bamboo crafts store in Kyoto is Mingei Teika. You can also custom order items if you have the time. Take a look at some of the bamboo products in Kyoto and you will surely fall in love.

7. Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi dolls are super cute and the perfect gift for anyone, especially girls who love cute little trinkets. These dolls were originally from northern Japan. They are hand carved from wood with a long trunk painted with floral patterns for a body and large heads.  The faces are painted with minimal detail, just a few lines to give it a face. They have no arms or legs and are usually made from cherry wood, dogwood, or itaya kaede which is a Japanese maple. It would also be a great gift for a Nintendo wii lover as Miis were inspired by these adorable works of art.

8. Kanzashi and Wooden Combs

Kanzashi are hair pieces that are used in traditional Japanese hairstyles. They are made to resemble things in nature like flowers, lilies, Sakura, leaves, cranes, and other symbols of Japan that are found in nature. Wooden combs are also a great idea for a gift as they also hold the aesthetic beauty of femininity in Japan. Also inspired by nature and traditional patterns of Japanese art, foreigners love to receive these combs as gifts. They are loved also by Japanese natives as they are made using sturdy wood that is also gentle on the hair. It’s the perfect give for someone who is into beauty.

9. Oilpaper Umbrella

The paper umbrella with a bamboo frame is probably one of the most iconic symbols of traditional Japanese accessories. Many of them are handmade either by a single artisan or by a team of umbrella crafters. They split bamboo using a measurement system and assemble the frame, add the paper or washi used to make them and bring it all together. The delicate designs that are painted on the umbrellas are symbols of nature or the seasons that can be enjoyed in Kyoto and throughout Japan. It’s what makes these umbrellas a great work of art. These umbrellas, however, can be a bit bulky so some advance planning may be needed.


There are plenty of gifts to choose from in Kyoto and many of them bear the absolutely gorgeous art and creative techniques that originated or otherwise refined in Japan. Japan’s omiyage culture makes it easy to buy a gift and have it prepared for giving, so with that, and this list, the task of omiyage shaping should be made easy. Deciding which gift to buy, now that is the only hard part.