20 great gifts inspired by Ueno Zoo’s most famous residents
Pandas: people just can’t get enough of them. Ever since the first giant panda arrived at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo in 1972, the Japanese public has barely swerved in its devotion to these ambling bamboo-munchers. The domestic media obsessively tracks the procreational activities of the zoo’s current residents, Shin Shin and Ri Ri, and when a newborn cub died of pneumonia last year it was practically a cause for national mourning. Even if you don’t make it as far as the zoo, pandas are an unavoidable presence in Ueno, adorning everything from doughnuts to daruma, snow globes to one-cup saké (no, really). Here are 20 of our favourite Tokyo panda souvenirs.
Who’s that cheeky critter poking its head out of our teatime treat? These fluffy doughnuts from Nakashibetsu, Hokkaido have been given a panda-style makeover in their Tokyo incarnation, with flavours including Hokkaido Milk, Shiretoko Salt Caramel, Hokkaido Pumpkin and Cocoa Chocolate.
Price: ¥1,050 for three
Available at: Siretoco Factory, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Panda-themed stationery is easy to come by in Ueno, but for the biggest selection you need to venture into the park itself. Adorned with miniature bears and an official panda logo, these pens, mechanical pencils and rulers bring a dash of fun to even the most boring desk job.
Price: ¥365 each
Available at: Parks Ueno, 7 Ueno-Koen, Taito-ku
Panda daruma doll
Even traditional craftspeople aren’t immune to the charms of Ri Ri and Shin Shin. This cute, handcrafted ornament comes courtesy of Terunaga Mashimo, a third-generation daruma doll maker from Gunma Prefecture, and wouldn’t look out of place in even the most stylish of abodes.
Price: ¥1,890 each
Available at: Yu Nakagawa, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Panda bento box
Lunchtimes will never be the same again once you’ve tucked into one of these creations from venerable food maker Tsukuasa Shoten. A rice panda adorned with umeboshi plums sits amid lightly seasoned vegetables, chicken, salmon and egg roll. It’s a deco bento to die for: just be warned that there are only 20 available each day.
Price: ¥735 each
Available at: Okazu Honten Tsukuasa, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Fluffy pouches are a staple of panda merchandise in Tokyo, but you might struggle to top this tasty little number, available at the ultra-girly Plame Collome shop. At 10cm wide, it’s large enough to accommodate make-up or a small camera, while that ribbon is sure to have your friends squealing ‘kawaii!‘
Price: ¥1,260 each
Available at: Plame Collome, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
The Ueno 3153 branch of cake shop Cozy Corner sells waffle sandwiches adorned with cat and dog faces – but the panda reigns supreme. Get your spongy confection with a choice of fillings, including custard and milk cream flavoured with strawberries and sweet azuki beans.
Price: from ¥150
Available at: Ginza Cozy Corner, 1F Ueno 3153, 1-57 Ueno-Koen, Taito-ku
Panda origami set
In this part of town, it’s practically a requirement that any gift shop has a dedicated panda section, and stylish stationer Angers Bureau is no different. We like this origami set by Realfake, which uses paper printed with photos of actual animal fur. The 16 sheets are enough to make eight paper pandas, with bilingual instructions to help English speakers.
Available at: Angers Bureau, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Panda snow globe
Speaking of panda sections, the local branch of hipster knick-knack bazaar Village Vanguard has got one too. This trinket comes adorned with a Sichuan landscape, though we’re not sure that quite redeems its utter tackiness.
Available at: Village Vanguard, 5F Ueno Marui, 6-15-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
If a fluffy panda pouch isn’t quite sophisticated enough for you (see above), here’s a more elegant alternative. This palm-sized purse, fashioned in the traditional Japanese style, comes to us via Bel Regalo, a Kyoto brand that’s only just starting to become widely available in Tokyo.
Available at: 1F Ueno Marui, 6-15-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Mmm, panda-faced processed fish paste… It’s hard to imagine these finding an audience overseas, but they’d make a welcome addition to the average Japanese schoolkid’s lunch box. Pick them up in black, pink or yellow versions at Fujiya, a stalwart of the bustling Ameyoko market.
Price: ¥400 each, ¥1,000 for three
Available at: Fujiya, 6-10-4 Ueno, Taito-ku
Panda rice crackers
The Osama-do shop has been cranking out okaki rice crackers since the 1920s from its base in nearby Senzoku, but you’ll need to visit the Ueno Station branch to get these. Seaweed-flavoured and with a nice salty tang, the ‘Ogaki Panda’ would go equally well with tea or something a little stronger (and stiffer).
Price: ¥210 each
Available at: Osama-do, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Diablock giant panda
Why buy a readymade panda when you can build your own? This Diablock giant panda from Lego imitators Kawada is likely to appeal to bored office workers as much as kids, and it’s not as fiddly as the Nanoblock kits for which the company is better known.
Available at: Yamashiroya, 6-14-6 Ueno, Taito-ku
This large, tenugui-style handkerchief is one of the more understated offerings on our list: only a small illustration in one corner indicates that it’s pandering to the panda crowd (sorry). It’s a useful little number, too: the pocket on the reverse could accommodate a kairo hand warmer in winter or an ice pack in the summer.
Available at: Flower Jelly, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Panda pin badge
Every branch of Hard Rock Cafe has its own exclusive pin badges – and no prizes for guessing what the main theme is at the Ueno restaurant. If regular offerings like the ‘City Guitar’ pin (pictured) aren’t enough, look out for the limited edition pins, released on the third Saturday of the month.
Price: ¥1,200 each (limited edition pins ¥1,500)
Available at: Hard Rock Cafe Uyeno Eki, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
China’s favourite calorie bomb never looked cuter than when adorned with a doe-eyed panda face. These popular mooncakes are sold in sets of two at the Ueno branch of Chinese restaurant chain Toh-Ten-Koh, though you can also get panda-branded manju and niku-man buns at their online store.
Price: ¥500 for two
Available at: Toh-Ten-Koh, 1-4-33 Ikenohata, Taito-ku
Panda one-cup saké
It would be remiss not to suggest at least one panda-related way of getting pished, and Gifu’s Miyozakura Jozo have got us covered. This ‘one cup’ saké was launched to mark the arrival of Ueno Park’s first giant panda in 1972 – and unlike most other varieties of this street-drinking staple, you might actually keep the glass once you’ve drunk it.
Available at: Kinokuniya, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Panda roll cake
You’ve probably tried to make something similar at home and failed miserably (or was that just me?). Let the experts at Les Patissieres show you how it’s done with this oh-so-soft roll cake, filled with whipped cream and chocolate mousse to create a panda face. One word of advice: warm your knife before slicing it, to keep the design intact.
Price: ¥1,470 each
Available at: Les Patissieres, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Panda bouncy ball
If you make it as far as the Ueno Station ticket gates before realising you’ve forgotten to buy any souvenirs, nip into design shop Rezept nearby to snag one of these: cheap, cheerful and likely to last longer than anything else on this list.
Price: ¥200 each
Available at: Rezept Design & Store, Ecute, 3F JR Ueno Station, 7-1-1 Ueno, Taito-ku
Ueno’s best stocked emporium of panda produce is, unsurprisingly, to be found in the zoo itself. Among the sweets, keyrings and stuffed toys on offer, these butter and chocolate cookies seem to be particularly popular – though it’s hard not to feel that the tin is a bigger selling point than what’s inside.
Available at: Ueno Zoo gift shop, 9-83 Ueno-Koen, Taito-ku
Panda yaki cakes
Sometimes the traditional options are the best, and that’s probably true of these old-school ‘panda yaki’ sponge cakes, filled with the sweet bean paste so beloved of Western tourists (joking). Just be warned: look at that panda face for too long and it starts to get strangely hypnotic.
Price: ¥480 for six
Available at: Sakuragitei (inside Ueno Park), 9-84 Ueno-Koen, Taito-ku