What to buy when visiting from Japan
July 7, 2010 3:16 AM   Subscribe

People who live in Japan: what do you buy to bring back to Japan when you visit your home country? Mostly looking for things for personal use. Gift or resale ideas are welcome too.
posted by Infernarl to Shopping (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I get candy of the kind they don't have here, but that I like. Eatable stuff is always nice, both to have, and to use as gifts. Bonus points for things that come in pretty packages, and have some kind of local flavor. Something in a neat box with a picture of your home town or a famous monument or something makes an excellent omiyage.

Also, for personal use - deodorant that is also an antiperspirant. Very important to pack! They do have a lot of toothpaste brands, but not my favorite one, so that's one thing on my list.

Oh, and I'm a big tea drinker, and while you can find a lot of things in international food stores, I have yet to find anywhere that sells loose-leaf rooibos tea.

So, mostly little things like that.
posted by harujion at 3:32 AM on July 7, 2010

Drug store items. Antiperspirant, shampoo, toothpaste, pain reliever, etc, etc. These items (or something along the same line) are available here, but you may have trouble finding your preferred brand, or your preferred scent, or whatever (or if you can find it, it will be double what you would pay at home).

Snacks/Food. Cool Ranch potato chips, Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips, Aged Cheddar cheese, salsa, Maple Syrup, good Mustard, Mars bars, bran (for baking -- to put into white flour to make whole wheat), Ranch dressing, Miracle Whip, tortillas, bulk pasta (bulk most things), canned black beans, etc, etc. Again, some may be available here, but in a slightly different incarnation, or at a very different price.

Clothing/Shoes. If you are big or tall, make sure you have all the clothing you might need when you take off, and generally forget about buying clothing here (unless money is not an issue).

Pens/stationery. Sharpies, ...? Japan has a mind-boggling array of stellar stationery items, but if you have a personal favourite pen or notebook, you might wish to stock up. I'm certain you can find Sharpies in Japan, but I don't think you'll find a pack of 8 for $3, like you might in the US.

Books. If you are a book reader (and if you want to read in English), you're best to prepare ahead. Again, it's here, but it's not cheap.

There's probably more, but that's off the top of my head. As hurujion suggests, small, local items in a nice package are great for gifts. I often bring maple syrup, jams, mustard, smoked salmon, chocolate...

Kind of an aside, but, in my experience, cost-of-living in Japan (including Tokyo) is not any higher than Toronto or NYC, unless you want your life to include the same products/lifestyle as when you were in Toronto or NYC, and you can't manage to purchase and bring those items from home.
posted by segatakai at 4:48 AM on July 7, 2010

-Girl Scout Cookies
-Dental floss (the Japanese stuff is expensive and crappy)
-Nice breakfast cereal (Kashi, Special K, etc.)
-Makeup that matches my pale, pale coloring
-Medication with directions/side effects written out in English (I've definitely screwed up a character and messed up a dosage before)
-Board games
-Inexpensive bulk socks
-Thin and crispy restaurant-style tortilla chips

I once snuck an entire rhubarb-strawberry pie through customs. It was worth it.
posted by Alison at 5:06 AM on July 7, 2010

I tend to break it down into stores:

drugstore/wal-mart pharmacy: generic meds, like advil, aleve, anti-diarhea, claritin, nyquil liqui-caps, deoderant, aftershave, toothpaste and condoms.

supermarket: long grain rice (technically illegal to import, I just like it and can do different stuff with it than Japanese rice) seasoning blends (like Zatarain's Creole) and other spices hard to find in Japan (smoked paprika, for example), canned chipotle chiles, assorted comfort food meal in a box things like Zatarain's jambalaya or dirty rice, Miracle Whip in a squeeze bottle, ranch dip mix (sour cream is too expensive here, I make it with strained yogurt, tastes just fine). Depending on where you are, though, and how far you're willing to stretch your definition, you can find a good deal here, foodwise. I bring back much less than I used to, simply because I've really started working on making things from scratch, rather than relying on mixes. If you live near a Costco, though, life is pretty good.

Other than that, socks and shoes (my feet are just outside the standard spectrum by half a centimeter), shirts that fit (Japan is not a country that matches XL/XXL frames well) underwear. Books. English versions of PS3 games if they aren't biligual and available here.

Beer Coozies (or beer coolers, or whatever you call those neoprene sleeves for a can of beer). You can get them dirt cheap from Old Navy, and they don't sell them here in Japan. As it is, most beer in convenience stores or supermarkets isn't actually cold enough to drink, and with the summer heat, even if you have a properly cold can, it'll be undrinkably warm within minutes without proper protection. In fact, these are unheard of here that the guys at a local liquor shop requested a couple from me. They'd make pretty good gifts for younger beer drinkers.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:39 AM on July 7, 2010

Colgate all-in-one plus whitening toothpaste
Paracetamol (UK)
Dental floss (ribbon kind)
Kids' painkillers
sleep-inducing medications (e.g. neo citran)
tampons (the wife says)
mouthwash with fluoride
DVDs / Books / comic books / magazines
Head and Shoulders shampoo
English language software (e.g. Windows 7)
posted by mukade at 6:02 AM on July 7, 2010

tampons and pads (after being warned there aren't tampons in Japan...which was not true... but it's still one of those things where you like what you're used to)

large amounts of tissue paper to wrap things (gifts, etc.) All the wrapping paper / tissue paper I found in Japan was sold in tiny tiny quantities.

hair products, but I use salon-type products that aren't sold everywhere at home anyway, so finding them in Japan is kind of a lost cause.
posted by mokudekiru at 7:30 AM on July 7, 2010

My American friends who live in Okinawa take back boxes and boxes of See's candies. They take it to work for their friends and colleagues.
posted by vickyverky at 9:02 AM on July 7, 2010

Thanks to the internet, almost anything you want to buy is available in Japan. However, these things are hard to find:

- Dental floss is expensive in Japan
- Allergy medication (although you have to be careful, because some North American brans are illegal)
- Shoes, shoes, shoes, shoes

Don't bring books: Amazon is generally pretty cheap, and ships overnight.
Computers (laptop and desktop) are about 25% more expensive in Japan, so bring your own

In regards to food, potato chips are a perennial favourite souvenir with Japanese people. Japanese chocolate and candy is far, far, better than North American candy (which Japanese people would find too sweet), but chips are perfect.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:22 AM on July 7, 2010

Ibuprofen is sold in Japan, BTW, under the brand "Eve".
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 AM on July 7, 2010

I don't live in Japan, but my husband taught for JET from 2003-2004, and we have acquaintances who still do. I've heard maple syrup, tortillas, and women's clothing intended for American bust sizes, as well as deodorant and US-zoned DVDs and videogames (for watching on US-zoned laptops). As KokuRyu mentioned, pseudophedrine is illegal in Japan - otherwise real Sudafed would be on that list, too.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:56 PM on July 7, 2010

Beer or wine from someplace else is great to give or serve at get-togethers.
posted by jander03 at 1:04 PM on July 7, 2010

I visit Costco regularly, so I can get things like antiperspirant and those delicious muffins pretty easily. Shoes are sometimes a problem, but I'm at the high end of what is considered a normal size (28.5 cm) in Japan, so I'm okay there. Same thing with clothing -- as long as you're not obese or over 185 cm, you will be able to find what you need in a major city, if not online.

Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, among other American candies, are not sold in Japan so I try to bring some back whenever I visit.

Flossing is a chore for me (still have my wisdom teeth), so I use this flosser from Reach; unfortunately the refills are only sold in the US, so I buy about ten of these to bring back.

Pseudoephedrine is indeed illegal to import, but phenylephrine (what most formulations of Sudafed and its generics are now made with) is fine.

One interesting thing is that due to the rise in the value of the JPY against the USD, GBP, and EUR, some items imported and sold in Japan are actually more expensive than ordering it yourself directly from the manufacturer/retailer overseas (including shipping). One must be careful of customs duties, however -- I got stuck paying an extra 5,000 yen in duty on Birkenstock sandals from Germany. Even then it was still cheaper than buying them in Japan!
posted by armage at 8:51 PM on July 7, 2010

Don't bring books: Amazon is generally pretty cheap, and ships overnight.

Not for everything, especially if it's not a bestseller or recent release -- a lot of non-Japanese material they order from overseas distributors on an as-needed basis, as I discovered when I went to order a Rough Guide at the last minute. I ended up finding it at Kinokuniya for a reasonable price, albeit higher than Amazon.
posted by armage at 8:55 PM on July 7, 2010

From a clothing standpoint, L.L. Bean (they've got stores in Lalaport in Chiba), and Eddie Bauer (across from Takashimaya in Shinjuku) carry American sizes. Gap doesn't. For shoes, outlet shops tend to have a small array of bigger sizes, though generally less selection. Foodwise, Kaldi Coffee usually has a decent selection of international food, as does Seijo Ishii and Kinokuniya supermarkets, though they are a bit pricier, at least you don't have to schlep them on a plane, then through customs.

When it comes to customs, one thing that might help if you have anyone back home sending you something: Ask them to remove an and all tags, and, if clothing, (and they're very, very nice) ask them to run them through a washer/dryer cycle to make them less obviously brand new, then send them marked as old/used clothes/personal effects. I've had to pay duties on clothes sent with tags, but never on clothes sent without/wrinkles added.

I imagine this might help at customs in the airport, though luckily, I never get checked when coming back.

knocks on wood, looks nervously around the room
posted by Ghidorah at 6:13 PM on July 8, 2010

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