Omiyage(お土産) , or souvenir shopping, is a big culture in Japan and is almost expected of you to buy a box of sweets for your workmates, family and friends whenever you journey beyond your prefectural border. Especially as a foreign traveller, gifts and souvenir shops are definitely one of the most entertaining places to visit, as the amount and variety of novelty goods never seem to know its end. From towers of boxed sweets, walls of jingling key-chains and other miscellaneous objects that you are not sure if they are edible or not, there comes a time when too much option becomes a burden. When taking gifts back overseas, something small, light, and expendable is the preferred choice. i.e. Sweets.
But the problem still remains, that maybe aunt Margaret won’t like anko bean paste in her mochi. Or that your flat mate Josh might not appreciate the hint of green tea in his chocolate. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of Japanese flavours are an acquired taste that not even all natives enjoy. What you need for your picky friends is something small, pretty, and affordable with a simple flavor that everyone can agree on. Konpeito. (金平糖)
You may remember konpeito as the little, colourful star-shaped things sprinkled on the soot-spirits in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Although now established as a traditional Japanese confectionary, konpeito’s origins journeys back to Portugal, introduced to Japan by Portuguese traders and missionaries during the 16th century. Made entirely out of sugar (and colouring), konpeito wins centuries of people’s adoration with their playful appearance. The bumps that give its star-like shapes are a naturally occurring phenomenon during production, and its array of vibrant colours can be both pop and elegant, depending on the combinations. Packaged kompeito in the colour schemes of different flowers such as sakura, hydrangeas and forget-me-nots are popular as with the glass jar contained variety. Some people like to drop a few into their coffee as fancy sugar cube replacements, so it is both perfect for coffee lovers and Miyazaki fans also. Look for the tiny sugar stars the next time you find yourself gnawing your brains out wondering what to take back as gifts.