Aside from creating country-exclusive flavours (think Kit Kat), Japan also has a knack for beautiful packaging. Whether you're shopping for gift-ready sweets or bento, your items will most likely come in a pretty box, and then wrapped to the nines with fancy paper, ribbons and all the trimmings.
With that in mind, we've searched the city for our favourite gift-ready sweets, which include everything from artisanal caramel and cookies to traditional Japanese yokan (red bean jelly). The selection here are from independent bakeries and confectioneries not usually found in the big department store depachika. Still, they make for beautiful gifts and souvenirs, or a nice treat for yourself as you can re-use some of the boxes after you've savoured their content.
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Seikotei is renowned for its handmade cookies – and for the heartwarming illustrations on its packaging. The shop has a library of over 200 illustrations, ranging from ‘thank you’- and ‘happy birthday’-themed ones to depictions of the Tokyo cityscape. But no matter which one you get, it will feature Seikotei’s signature squirrel somewhere. ¥1,296
Tokyo’s premier – well, only – purveyor of traditional sweets from the Basque Country wows with its 24-pack gift set of Basque-style macarons, sold in a tin decorated exclusively for the shop by French painter Patrick Cossu. You’ll feel like a kid again upon tasting the refined mini-cakes, which are pleasantly soft with a gentle almond aroma. ¥3,024
A nondescript Western-style dessert vendor out in exclusive Denenchofu, Roza is the kind of shop you’d pass right by if you didn’t know it was there. But once you get a taste of the ‘Russian’ chocolate sold here, you’ll likely become a regular. Available in about ten varieties, including nougat, plum and toffee, the little flavour bombs come wrapped in retro papers so cute you’ll want to reuse them. The top choice for souvenir shoppers is the chic white tin packed to the brim with ten different kinds of chocolate. ¥3,500
Dessert shop Matterhorn is not only well known for its packaging but also for its diverse range of baked treats. Its tins and boxes are the work of late painter Shintaro Suzuki, whose rustic images go perfectly with the shop’s ivory and magenta colour scheme.
The shop’s cookie tins, which are packed with six types of small sugary delights, are extremely popular – so book a day or two ahead or get there early in the morning to bag one before they sell out. But don’t despair if they’re out of stock – Matterhorn has many other delectable offerings featuring Suzuki’s designs. ¥1,500
Traditional Japanese-sweets purveyor Kotobukido offers several types of packaging for Koganeimo, the shop’s signature potato- shaped spiced delicacy that’s made with white bean paste and egg yolk. We’re particularly fond of the okagoiri, a traditional box made out of bamboo sheaths and decorated with red, green and yellow drawings of the famed wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). ¥2,040
Delicious natural caramel made without any artificial colouring and presented in a beautiful box – it’s no wonder Number Sugar in Harajuku always ranks among the most popular destinations for Tokyoites on the hunt for a sweet gift. The signature eight-flavour box contains varieties including vanilla, salt, raspberry and ginger. ¥918
Beloved as a luck-bringing treat since the olden days, the okoshi (puffed rice cookie) gets a 21st-century update at the sleek Higashiya, where the colourful snacks are sold in classic designer tins. You can choose from three varieties: buckwheat seeds for a slightly sweet and rich flavour, ginger for something sharp and zingy, and daitokuji natto for a unique umami taste. ¥1,512
While wagashi shop Nanarica in Waseda has made its name with monaka wafers, its yokan (red bean jelly bars) take the prize for prettiest packaging. The neat flower illustrations are the ideal accompaniment to these refined, slightly sweet desserts. Look out for seasonal varieties such as persimmon and ume plum, and if you have a sweet tooth but a tight budget, remember that half-size yokan are available too. ¥1,080
Monaka wafers, dorayaki pancake sandwiches and more, all made with vegetables – Azabu Yasaigashi specialises in turning healthy greens into confectionery. The shop’s packaging is worth a mention too, with the yaki-ukishima (a kind of Japanese pound cake) coming in sleek boxes tastefully decorated in a style that fuses traditional Japanese beauty with modern sensibilities. We love the cake made with red bean paste, burdock and chocolate, plus a zesty hint of yuzu citrus. ¥2,376
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