Z Notes Blog by Jim Zumwalt
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Shopping for Gifts in Ginza

Dec. 20 - When they travel, Americans, like Japanese, enjoy sharing their experiences with friends, family and office colleagues. Prior to a recent business trip to the United States, I visited Tokyo's Ginza district to purchase some souvenirs in order to share a bit of Japanese culture with my American friends. I visited some of my favorite stores:


I purchased boxes of Japanese incense here for my office mates in the State Department. This Ginza store opened in 1880, but the main store in Kyoto was founded in 1663. This incense makes a unique and practical gift. It is small and light, but Americans appreciate learning about Japanese incense culture. I tell the recipients that this incense is used in Eiheiji temple in Fukui prefecture. This shop is also a great place to purchase holiday gift cards made from exquisite "washi" paper. www.kyukyodo.co.jp

Matsuzaki Senbei

Ever since a friend told me about this shop, which opened in 1804, I have shopped here to purchase rice crackers for my American office. This time I selected a box of mixed "arare" rice crackers. The shop clerk told me that these crackers would last for three months. I don't need to worry about the "best before" date as my work colleagues always devour the rice crackers by the end of the day. matsuzaki-senbei.com

Yoseido Gallery

Opened in 1953, this shop is a youngster. But when in need of a special gift for an American friend, I go here to purchase a modern Japanese print. My wife recently purchased a print of the countryside in Fukushima Prefecture to thank an American who had come to Japan temporarily to help us respond to the nuclear crisis. He very much appreciated this reminder that despite the nuclear crisis, Fukushima Prefecture retains a rich culture and beautiful countryside. www.yoseido.com


I go to this Shimbashi shop, founded in 1782, to purchase sweet beans for New Year's and tsukudani (preserved seafood and seaweed). Ann and I especially like the salted kelp (shiokonbu), and preserved "asari clams" to eat with rice and hot water (ochazuke). www.tamakiya.co.jp

I hope you will share with me some of your favorite places to purchase souvenirs for your foreign friends. I am especially interested in older stores that have been patronized by generations of Japanese customers.

Until next time,



Dear Mr. Zumwalt,

I love burning incense after work in the evening. I enjoy the fragrance of healing atmosphere. Kyukyodo offers various kinds of incense. I love Wakamatu for tea ceremony. I also puchase incense at Higashi gyoen at the Imperial Household souvenir shop. I've tried Yume no Yume series: Asatuyu no Ka: Japanese Morning Glory for summer, which is the fragrance of woody green as Summer dew in the garden at dawn. Akinishiki no ka: Maple Leaf, which is the fragrance of Oriental Amber as autumn leaves spread out like a brocade.

Anyway, incense makes our life rich, thick, and elegant. I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

I am not sure diplomats have a real perception of what Japan is like. You are guided around to the best places by people who have an extensive knowledge of Japan. Most foreigners living in Japan have to be self reliant. If you were to try to get a teaching job, rent an apartment, renew your visa, complain about a phone bill, etc. without any help from anyone you might have a totally different perception of Japan.

Many thanks for your comments. I agree with you that the lifestyle of someone working for a Japanese company or studying at a Japanese school is very different from that of a diplomat. I recall my own experiences studying at a Japanese high school and university fondly and try to draw upon these experiences to help me further my understanding of Japan.

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