6 Best Buy Natural Products from Japan Towns
Japan could easily sway you into buying all things fine, flashy and fancy. But not all attention-worthy finds in this cute country are pink or glittery. A lot of the good stuff sits quietly on the shelves of hole-in-the-wall shops or tucked away in the least visible areas of bustling shopping streets. Here's a list of lesser-known best buys!
1. Best Buy in Takayama: Hida Beef
Considered the next best thing to Japan's renowned Kobe beef, which is said to melt in your mouth with every bite of the marbled meat, Hida beef comes from black-haired Japanese cattle raised naturally in the fields of Gifu Prefecture. You'd probably go to Gifu for UNESCO World Heritage sites like Gokayama and Shirakawa-go, but Hida beef is also a good reason to love the prefecture all the more.
2. Best Buy in Kamakura: Nugoo Matcha
Japan may be synonymous with green tea and matcha, but some teas are just cut above the rest. The Nugoo Japanese green tea, which originated from Kamakura, has a one-of-a-kind, naturally handcrafted Chakama Series green tea. Compared to mass-produced green tea that sells cheap in supermarkets (at around ¥300 for 30 bags), the natural teas of the Nugoo brand sell at around ¥1,300 per pouch with a dozen different varieties to choose from. If traveling to Japan, you'll likely head to Kamakura for the famous Big Buddha statue, or the many historic temples (the alternative to a Kyoto trip if your travel base is Tokyo). But as you visit the old samurai town, make sure not to skip this souvenir that represents "the best of Japan"—at least when it comes to green tea.
3. Best Buy in Tottori: Hojyo Wine
Yes, Japan has amazing mountains, flora and seas, but it surprisingly has sand, too! If you think only Dubai has sand for surfing, Tottori Prefecture will prove you wrong. Tottori may also convince you that your no-fail Shiraz and your favorite French Merlot may just have a rival: Tottori's Hojyo Wine. Made in the town of Hokuei, this wine naturally comes from the muscat grapes grown in the local Hojo sand dunes. The winery producing this dry, firmly aged drink only sells a limited quantity to ensure quality. When in Tottori, get a pack of equally popular, one-of-a-kind Pink Curry, made from beets! Curry and wine made from local ingredients of Tottori will surely leave a lasting memory.
4. Best Buy in Okayama: Shio Choco Kibi Dango
Not all dango dumplings are created equal! Okayama's Shio Choco Kibi Dango is cut above the rest. If you're a fan of mochi (sweet, sticky dumplings made of rice flour) and a lover of Royce chocolate, this is a must-buy. The softness of the mochi, and the bittersweet richness of natural chocolate and sea salt from Okayama, will make this your best bet yet when in Okayama. Okayama, known as the "land of sunshine," also grows tasty Pione grapes and peaches. While you'd probably go to Okayama for the famed Okayama Castle, and Japan's version of Venice along the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, while you're there, don't miss the Kibi Dango!
5. Best Buy in Kumamoto: Sugi Bee Products
There are several reasons why you should visit Kumamoto. After the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2016, this prefecture has been slowly recovering. As residents are getting back on their feet, you can support the economy while enjoying a visit to the famous Kumamoto Castle, or make side trips to the actual hangout spots of two famous Japanese figures from this town: Miyamoto Musashi (famous swordsman and author of The Book of Five Rings) and Eiichiro Oda (creator of One Piece, the best-selling manga series of all time). Sugi Bee products hail from this prefecture, too. Sugi Bee takes pride in its 60-year-old production policy of “Wholesome Apiriculture (Apiculture + Agriculture),” warranting handcrafted natural products only. Unique flavors are yuzu-flavored honey and ume-infused honey. They're so good, even dogs line up for them.
6. Best Buy in Nagano: Shio Koji
Perhaps one of the most natural and magical cooking ingredients you could use, shio koji, made of malt rice, salt and water, is a cooking enhancer produced through natural fermentation of natural ingredients. Shio koji, when added to recipes, brings out the natural umami flavor of the dish. It's also an ideal meat tenderizer; rubbing it onto meat can cut down the tenderizing time required in cooking. Nagano, one of the most famous production areas of shio koji in Japan, happens to hold the country's record of longest average lifespan. Credit it to the townspeople's preference for natto, koji and all things fermented, which are good for your health.