The Imperial Palace of Japan is a popular destination for tourists around the world. Aside from being the residence of the modern line of Japanese emperors, it’s also known for being the location of Edo Castle, home to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Being such a place steeped in culture and history, it’s definitely worth checking out, but that’s not the only reason. Tucked away in the imperial palace is a little known shop humbly called Kunaicho Seikatsu Kyodokumiai (Imperial Household Agency Cooperative) which sells food and items related to the imperial household. These items can only be found at this shop and they can’t be bought on-line.
This shop is largely unknown to even Japanese people, so our reporter Yoshio went in (after making the necessary reservation) to discover what limited edition treasures the Kunaicho Seikatsu Kyokumiai had to offer. Let’s see what he found in his photo-filled report!
▼ This is Kunaicho Seikatsu Kyodokumiai. It might not be much to look at from the outside, but they sell a wide range of items from food to stationery to alcohol.
▼ Yoshio tried to sample a range of their merchandise. Strangely the bags all seemed to be from a different maker. He wondered if it was a cost cutting measure.
▼ Left: a bottle of nihonshu for 1,600 yen (US$16), Right: wine for 3,500 yen ($36)
▼ Yoshio recommends the nihonshu called Gyoen. The taste is smooth and truly delicious, not to mention it was made in a famous sake brewery in Japan. Such a caliber of sake for this price is ridiculously cheap! You should absolutely buy some for a souvenir! Of course, it can only be bought here!
▼ A tea cup with the Chrysanthemum Imperial Seal printed on it for 500 yen ($5).
▼ The Imperial Seal of Japan is a 16 petal chrysanthemum with several petals in the back.
▼ Bowl with the Imperial Seal print 500 yen ($5)
▼ Yoshio was surprised to find that this bowl is actually Imari porcelain! Imari porcelain is made mainly in the area of Arita Town in Saga Prefecture and is considered pretty valuable stuff.
▼ Furoshiki with an Imperial Seal for 1,000 yen ($10). A furoshiki is a cloth often with a decorative pattern that is used to carry things like clothes, bottles, and presents.
▼ Castella (sponge cake) with the Imperial Seal
▼ Manju with the Imperial Seal: Manju is a sweet snack, kind of like a gelatinous cake with a filling often consisting of sweet bean paste.
▼ The bottom of the manju box was also lined with a map of the Imperial Palace.
If you like the look or the price of any of these items, unfortunately you can’t just waltz in and pick them up. The only way to get into the Kunaicho Seikatsu Kyokumiai is by reservation. Actually you don’t need to make a reservation to visit the store but you do have to reserve a tour of the Imperial Palace. By visiting the Imperial Household Agency website, you can get a tour permit which will get you access to this shop. However there are two things to note if you want to visit.
First, the tour is very popular, so you will want to book well in advance. The Palace website says they can accept reservations up to two months before, depending on the situation. Also, since this is a guided tour, you only have a limited time to shop. Give into your shopping impulses because you only have about 15 to 20 minutes to get something before the opportunity is gone for good… or at least until you make another reservation.
So, if you’re visiting Japan or even if you live here, Kunaicho Seikatsu Kyokumiai is a fantastic place to get some truly unique souvenirs for very reasonable prices.
▼ We’ll leave you with some other sights from the tour of the Imperial Palace.