Gifts from Nara, Japan?
June 4, 2010 6:33 AM   Subscribe

My husband is leaving for Japan today, staying in Nara and spending a bit of time in Tokyo. Any suggestions on interesting gifts for me and/or friends he could bring home (other than your normal Japanese souvenirs)?
posted by blake137 to Travel & Transportation around Nara, Japan (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
They do a lot of odd flavors of Kit Kat bars. I am rather partial to the green tea ones, but they do lot of seasonal flavors as well.
posted by baggers at 6:45 AM on June 4, 2010

Japan has these headbands designed specifically for use in the bathroom while washing your face (to keep the hair out of it). I brought back several for my female friends, as I have never seen them in my country.

They have really nice scrapbooking materials too, if you go to a Tokyu Hands or Loft (I'm not sure if there are different stores in Tokyo, I was in the Kansai area which sometimes has different chains). So scrapbooks and markers etc., I would actually use these as gifts for Japanese friends, by going and buying a scrapbook and some stickers (nice stickers too!) and putting in photos I'd brought with me of my family/friends, and doing a few little decorations. This was always received very well, but the scrapbook itself could still be a good gift.

Thin umbrellas, also available at Loft. They have some of the thinnest umbrellas I ever see. They cost about ¥1000 (10 bucks) and they're sort of the male counterpart to the face-washing headbands that I bring back with me.

For women, there's also those sheets of paper that are used to wipe off oil from your face... I don't really use them much but they're always kind of an "oooh, what's that" kind of fun thing to bring back. Mostly have received as gifts directly from Japanese people.

Cute hand-towels, which you are assumed to be carrying around anyway in Japan. They're sold pretty much everywhere.

Buy some of the fancy sweets. I'm a big fan of Tokyo Banana (for Tokyo) and a few others depending on the region. This is probably in my top 5 favorite things about Japan - the existence and quality of these gift-sweets. They're available in basements of department stores or specialty stores, or inside medium-large train stations, and are always wrapped beautifully, and meant to be given as a gift. Just seeing how they're wrapped and the nice packaging is somewhat of a cultural experience, too! God I miss Tokyo Banana (the gaufrettes are my favorite).

That's all I've got off the top of my head.
posted by mokudekiru at 6:56 AM on June 4, 2010

Very pretty tea cups/mugs/pots from Kappabashidori, the restaurant-supplies district in Tokyo. Right next to Asakusa, which is a pretty popular touristy spot. He may be initially overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice available.
posted by nihraguk at 7:24 AM on June 4, 2010

Do you like green tea? Around Nara there are a lot of towns famous for the green tea they produce. They could pick up some high quality matcha or other varieties.

With the concentration of buraku (hereditary outcaste) communities near Nara-Kyoto, there should be some high-quality leatherwork available. If he goes the second route, he shouldn't mention the burakumin, he should just inquire into buying leather goods produced in the area.
posted by vincele at 7:25 AM on June 4, 2010

Photos. I stuffed all the Christmas letters with Japan shots after my trip. Everyone got photos of things I thought THEY specifically would enjoy seeing.
posted by Ys at 8:23 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Instead of giving your husband a list, maybe you should let him explore the city. I've found that some of the best souvenirs I've discovered were from walking around some of Tokyo's shopping districts and going into random stores. Plus, by not giving him a list of things to get and imposing any particular expectations on him that means the stuff he he brings home will be a special surprise to you, plus you'll know he put the thought into picking the gifts out.

In Tokyo, I highly recommend visiting Harajuku for clothes, Asakusa for cultural and religious nick-nacks, the average grocery store for unique snacks and candy, Akihabara for anime and electronic related stuff, and toy stores for some really crazy off-the-wall stuff. Yes, I said toys stores. Heck, at one toy store in Harajuku, I remember finding a Japanese wall scroll of R2D2 symbolically floating through some pink cherry blossoms (cherry blossoms have cultural significance to the Japanese), all drawn in that Edo period art style. It was epic. I curse myself to this day for not having bought it.

Someone above mentioned Kappabashidori, which does have a lot of neat restaurant and cooking supplies, but they tend to be really expensive. So, if money is an issue, I highly recommend using Amazon Japan to get some of the same stuff for cheap, just have it ship to your husband's apartment or hotel. Since your husband will have a Japanese mailing address, shipping will be pretty cheap since the stuff will be shipped locally and he won't have to pay any import taxes. This also gives you the opportunity to visually check out Amazon Japan for gift ideas and relay the information to him for buying.

Truly though, regardless of where he will be staying, your husband is likely to find a store close to his apartment or hotel that will sell some very souvenir-y stuff. In fact, the act of giving souvenirs to close friends and family is culturally VERY important to the Japanese so he'll probably find souvenir shops at just about every street corner. So I wouldn't worry about him not being able to find gifts for you and your friends.

Good luck.
posted by nikkorizz at 8:33 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I forgot to post the link to Amazon Japan. There's a link to the English version of the website in the upper right hand corner of the main page, but the web and inventory content of the English section has been reduced significantly, so I'd stick with the Japanese version if possible.
posted by nikkorizz at 8:38 AM on June 4, 2010

When I visited I ended up shopping for, of all things, Hello Kitty phone charms. They make them specialized for just about every city and location and sell them in those areas - I got two dressed like Murasaki and Genji (from The Tale of Genji) in Kyoto, one dressed as a pilgrim from Magome, one with a giant crab on her head from a crab restaurant we ate at, and so on. Here's my Livejournal post with photos of all of them.

They were tiny, specialized to the region, and easy to pack, so they worked well.
posted by telophase at 9:38 AM on June 4, 2010

If you like cooking, Kappabashi also has excellent knives. For family and close friends, while a bit pricey (near $70) wow. Good knives.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:13 PM on June 4, 2010

When I was in Japan I used to get Hello Kitty phone charms for the places I visited for the same reasons telophase did. In Osaka you could even get charms based on different train stations. If you don't want to get Hello Kitty phone charms they have Doraemon ones which are similarly localized.

They also have toy/model trains at train stations, which is especially good for the more local lines (eg in the area around Nara you'd be able to get Kintetsu, Keihan and Hankyu toy trains at their respective stations).

Japan seems much more willing to experiment with their snack food, resulting in chips/chocolates/drinks in strange flavours, as well as ones only available (or at least much more common) in certain areas (due to local tastes I guess). This can make for good souvenirs as even if they aren't a hit taste wise they'll still be plenty interesting.

My standing request to everyone going to Japan is for snacks. Specifically "furu-furu" shaker fanta (you shake the can and the soda pop half turns into jelly) and Cheeza brand crackers.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:44 AM on June 5, 2010

As part of his cultural experiences, make suer he hits a 100-yen store. They are like dollar stores in concept, but with quality goods and some inexplicable things and some only-in-Japan things.

Also seconding junk food. Between the 100-yen store and a 7-11/Family-Mart/AM-PM, I get almost all of my Japan-souvenir-shopping done and on the cheap. I highly recommend the weird Kit-Kats, and there are usually weird Pringles.

Your higher priced snacks and gift foods (omiyage) like the Tokyo Banana mentioned upthread are highly location dependent, and usually represent a regional specialty. I don't know why the Banana was chosen for Tokyo, and have no idea what Nara's omiyage food is. The Hello Kitty for each city is also a good suggestion.

For your quirky design needs and cheap hobby goods, seconding Tokyu Hands. If you trust him with clothes (...) and like simple classic stuff, pick up some shirts at Uniqlo (I don't recommend the pants because it is way harder to get a good fit. Shirts are pretty easy to buy unless you are very busty).
posted by whatzit at 2:16 PM on June 8, 2010

Japan seems much more willing to experiment with their snack food

Actually this has a lot to do with the way sales trends are there in a more general sense, but it is particularly strong in restaurants and other foods: the bulk of the sales come immediately after launch, or they don't come at all. Additionally, food is a very seasonal thing - there isn't that sense of having EVERYTHING all year round that we have in the states - and hence the snack foods follow the same trends. There are Pocky, for example, that are released every winter, but ONLY for winter. There are spring Kit-Kat flavors (sakuranbou). Etc.

God those Cheez-a crackers are good.
posted by whatzit at 2:19 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

whatzit, have you tried the blue cheese ones? The cheddar are the best, but the blue cheese are pretty snacktastic. Also, just for randomly-named snack souvenirs, you can't beat Cratz, which is flavored pretzel chunks and almonds, or the absolute best, S-Corn, which is like cheetohs, but with different flavors. Also, if you say it fast enough, you've got SCorn, which is fun to say, as in 'Would you like some SCorn?' or 'I have a bucket of SCorn.' Good times had by many.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:33 PM on June 8, 2010

Nah, I like the black Cheez-a (Gouda?) though the cheddar isn't bad. It is however a cracker flavor you can get in the US so, meh.

HAH. SCOrn. Don't forgot to pick up some sweet cream-filled COLON to go with that.

Hey you, uh, want anything from France...?
posted by whatzit at 9:31 AM on June 9, 2010

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