Whenever I visit a new place in Japan, I make sure to prioritise trying local food and buying souvenirs for friends and family. When you visit Fukushima, you can do both of these things in one place – the Fukushima Bussankan in Fukushima City!
The Bussankan (or Fukushima Prefecture Local Products Promotion Center) has a huge selection of omiyage (souvenirs) from Fukushima Prefecture.
From local crafts, to sweet treats, to alcohol, if it is a souvenir from Fukushima, there is a good chance that the Bussankan stocks it!
What kinds of souvenirs can you buy from Fukushima?
In Japan, there is a tradition of buying cookies and sweets for coworkers when you go on a trip somewhere. While the Bussankan does sell lots of these types of treats, I thought I’d highlight some unique items from Fukushima that I think would make good souvenirs.
Akabeko & Traditional Crafts
Fukushima Prefecture is famous for the akabeko (‘red cow’)!
An ‘akabeko’ is a red cow with a cute bobbing head.
They are typically made out of papier-maché and painted bright red. According to local legends, over 1000 years ago, a cow appeared at the site of a temple that workers were struggling to build. The akabeko supported the construction of this temple through the transportation of heavy construction materials that had proven too heavy for the labourers’ cows.
The akabeko is a symbol of being strong and brave in the face of adversity, and of staying loyal to your principles even when times get tough.
Since Fukushima Prefecture has faced much misunderstanding and prejudice over the last 7 years, I think that the akabeko as a symbol of Fukushima’s strength and resilience is as relevant now as it ever has been.
If you wonder what a red cow was doing wandering round Fukushima 1000 years ago, check out a post I wrote about the legacy of the akabeko here.
There are many products from different artisans’ studios on display and for sale in store, so definitely take a look!
Sake & Other Alcohol
Fukushima’s reputation for producing top-class sake has been relentlessly growing. In 2017, for the fifth straight year in a row, Fukushima won the most gold prizes at the Annual Japan Sake Awards. Fukushima specialises in ‘karakuchi‘ sake, which means dry sake, as opposed to the sweeter variety.
It isn’t just Fukushima’s Japanese sake (known in Japanese as 日本酒 nihonshu) that is winning the hearts of fans across the country. Fukushima has expanded into producing a range of alcohol, including plum wine, whiskey, wine and even craft beer.
You can see above a selection of the locally-brewed beer that Fukushima has to offer! You might notice the odd order of the numbers on some of the bottles (it goes ‘17846’). Although it might not look like it, this is actually the correct order.
This beer has been named in quite a clever way.
In Japanese, if you were to say the names of the beers out-loud, you’d say the numbers:
- Ichi (1) Nana (2) Hachi (8) Shi (4) Roku (6).
- If you take the first syllable of the words, you’d have
- Ichi Nana Hachi Shi Roku. I na ha shi ro.
- The name of the place where this beer was brewed is called Inawashiro Town!
Fukushima fruit is famous in Japan and abroad, and the prefecture is actually the 3rd biggest domestic producer of peaches. Fukushima peaches and other fruit are growing increasingly famous abroad in recent years, being exported to countries including Thailand and Vietnam.
Although the seasonal nature of fruit means it’s difficult to try Fukushima peaches if you don’t visit in August, you can enjoy the refreshing flavours of Fukushima peaches and other fruit in the form of juice sold year-round at the Bussankan.
There’s a range of fruit juice on sale, including 6 subtly different varieties of peach juice!
Areas across Fukushima Prefecture such as Kitakata City have been known for centuries for their high quality of water, leading to a natural ability to produce delicious cooking essentials such as shoyu, miso paste, mirin, tofu etc.
Since moving to Fukushima, I’ve tried to incorporate as many possible Fukushima products into my food cupboard as possible. If I’m going to learn how to cook Japanese food, I may as well use local ingredients while I’m at it!
While you’re in store…
If lots of shopping makes you feel a bit peckish, don’t worry!
The Bussankan invites local farmers from all around the prefecture every week to come and sell their produce. I always look forward to the new products that farmers bring to these markets. There are often fresh cakes and desserts perfect for an after-lunch treat, and also lots of fruit and vegetables at great prices.
Eating Lunch Here
The Bussankan reopened in mid-December, and has been renovated to include a small restaurant.
Like the farmers that take part in the Bussankan’s local food markets, workers from local stores and restaurants around the prefecture are invited to cook their specialties for a decided number of days at the store, meaning that visitors can try lots of different Fukushima dishes without leaving Fukushima City!
The boards outside the front doors (see photo above) showcase the lunch menu for that day.
When you enter the store, the restaurant area is straight in front of you on your right.
If you don’t fancy a full meal, how about a coffee or an ice cream?
The Bussankan uses milk from the dairy farm called Beko no Gyu in Aizu Bange Town. Not only is it rare to find ice cream that has been made from local milk, but there are only 2 places in Japan where you can buy ice cream made from this specific dairy farm – Aizu Bange and here at the Bussankan!
I hope you can see how exciting and special is it! Also, the ice cream portions are huge…
Compare Sake Flavours
The Bussankan has sake comparing sets available to try every day. The sake included in these sets is also changed every week or so.
For 500 yen*, you can order 3 of Fukushima’s famous sake and see if you can taste the difference! For an extra 200 yen* you can add traditional side dishes like the fish dishes from Aizu featured in the photos above. (*price accurate as of January 17 2018)
The fact that the sake available to try changes frequently means you are always in for a surprise when you visit the Bussankan! This is true for the markets and restaurant meals too.
I always go there when I’m planning on buying gifts for my family or friends and want to share a bit of my experience of living in Fukushima with them.
& One Last Thing…. It’s Tax Free For Tourists!
If you plan to return to Fukushima in the next 6 months, and fulfill the other requirements listed in store, you’ll be able to receive your purchases tax free!
So all in all, the Bussankan is really worth visiting during your time in Fukushima, whether you’re a resident here or just visiting. Definitely check it out!
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