Souvenirs You Should Not Miss
A short guide to the local products perfect for a gift.
Maybe you have just a minute to spare when waiting to catch a ferry. Maybe you are browsing the selection, unable to decide. Or maybe you can get no more than a few items, with your luggage a bit on the heavy side. Whatever the case may be, tourists can feel at a loss sometimes, seeing the wide variety of products the islands offer—some familiar, some exotic, but all with the unmistakable Oki Islands flair. What to choose, what to choose?
Allow me to direct your attention to a couple of products I believe are worth checking out.
When you’re feeling a little peckish
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When on Oki, snack like the islanders do—and no treat is more beloved by local people than Oki Soba Karin. Although at first sight it may remind some of Tagliatelle noodles, these long pieces of deep-fried dough are obviously no pasta. Pleasantly crunchy, they owe their colour and unique taste to the main ingredient—buckwheat flour. They are enjoyed on their own, piece by delicious piece.
Then, there is Sazae Monaka and honestly, a snack cannot get any more Oki-esque than that. Anyone who has visited the islands knows just how prevalent the turban shells called sazae are in the local cuisine, so the sight of sweets shaped after them is both surprising and not. Filled with sweet red bean paste and mochi, and wrapped in an elegant package, Sazae Monaka delights as a gift and a snack. While delicious as it is, you can bake it in a toaster oven for two minutes to make the outside crispy with the inside nice and melty.
Nothing to be salty about
You’ve seen it white, you’ve seen it pink, but how about brown and made from seaweed?
I am talking about salt here, of course. One such product is Rōsoku-jima Moshio, sold in a package with the iconic Candle-Rock.* Produced on the islands from burning locally harvested seaweed, this salt brings fond memories of Oki to the kitchen. As an essential food seasoning, it satisfies those who prefer their souvenirs practical for everyday use. The seaweed salt goes well with a great many types of dishes—not just those fish-based—and the unusual colour adds a curious little something to the culinary experience.
If you’re still in two minds about it, though, then I’m sure that Ama no Shio will sway you to the salt side. Though conventionally looking, a sticker on the package proudly informs that the product has received blessings at the prominent Oki Shrine. Truly one-of-a-kind, Ama no Shio makes a useful and thoughtful gift for the lovers of Japanese culture.
Then, there are the oranges
With all those savoury flavors, you might want to indulge your sweet tooth again. If so, have no fear—Saki Mikan jam has you covered. Inside the jar is proof that Oki cuisine is not only about seafood—mandarin orange jam. The sweetness of jam enhances the taste of fruit it is made from, which is grown and ripened under the hot summer sun on Nakanoshima Island. Saki Mikan is a perfect fit with a piece of toast, as one would expect, but the locals also suggest substituting it for sugar when sweetening a cup of black tea.
*Also available in different packaging.
How about something stronger?
Now that I touched upon the subject of drinks, I think it is high time to talk about local alcohol.
Once upon a time—or more specifically, before 1972—there were five breweries operating on Dōgo Island. Fearing that with the changing times they might go out of business, they resolved to join forces and form one company. That was how Oki Sake Brewery, the primary alcohol maker of Oki, was born. Today, it offers tours of the facilities combined with sake tasting, and its products are widely available on the islands, in both souvenir shops and regular supermarkets. So let’s take a look at some of the beverages produced at Oki Sake Brewery.
The flagship product locals often default to is without a doubt Oki Homare. Made with the locally grown rice and clean waters of Oki, it is praised for its unique, fresh taste. While Oki Homare lines the shelves in bottles of many sizes, I feel that as far as the packaging goes, the lidded cups deserve special attention. They come in five variants, each adorned with a different drawing that represents a signature Oki landscape or important cultural property of the islands. Wouldn’t it be fun to gather them all?
But not everyone is a sake enthusiast. Some prefer their drinks sweeter, with additional flavouring. That is why I would like to point to a product I myself am partial to. Totte Oki no Hassakushu is a liquor made with hassaku orange, yet another local produce. Its taste balances fresh citrusy flavour with the sweetness expected from this kind of beverage. “Easy to drink,” as the islanders would say, it can be enjoyed with food or on its own.
Always in fashion
They are all the rage on the islands, especially in summer. T-shirts and polo shirts with Oki motifs are beloved by the locals, with the former seen as a quality casual wear and the latter as a valid “cool biz” option. I highly recommend taking a leaf out of the islanders’ book and checking what the souvenir shops have in stock. I am positive you will find a shirt that catches your fancy, given quite the available selection. Moreover, shirts with different designs can be found on each of the islands, featuring their unique customs and places of importance. What a better way to bring your favourite piece of Oki home with you?
So if on Nishinoshima Island it was Takuhi Shrine that stole your heart, you might be interested in this black T-shirt. Don’t let the plain front fool you—there is a lovely red line art image on its back. The design is simple yet elegant, drawing inspiration from the local legend and the kagura dances performed there late at night, during Takuhi Shrine Festival. A fine example of fashion paying homage to tradition.
Last but not least, there is Chiburijima Island with its Red Cliff and Mount Akahage, and also the polo shirts available in many different colours. The graphics that adorn them change every year, so if you visit the island again (as we hope you will!), you are unlikely to find the same exact product again. They are great as a gift for a friend or a family member, but even more so for yourself. Wear them with pride, like the locals do, to show off how far you have travelled and what a beautiful place you have discovered on your way.
Author: Izabela Raczynska