Souvenirs from Japan?
July 19, 2010 2:46 PM   Subscribe

My dad is heading to Japan. I think he'll be in the Tokyo area. He's offered to try and find interesting stuff that's hard to get over here. Thing is, I'm not sure what to ask for or where to have him try and look…

A few things to narrow it down a bit; I'm not terribly into anime/manga, with the exception of Hayao Miyazaki's stuff. I am a massive geek and like gadgets, so if there's a good place to look for cheap & fun gadgets that might be good. I know about the Akihabara, and said he might stop there.

But are there hidden treasures? Cool shirts or hats or sandals? Hard-to-find alcoholic beverages (sake I know, but anything else)? Am I missing categories of awesome that should be here? How about nifty traditional Japanese stuff we don't get over here?

Ideally, smaller and less-expensive items would be good. Not sure how long he'll have to go poking around, so simpler would be better.

I see a previous questions here and here but I'm looking for than fabric/toys/snacks. The first does have some good ideas, but wanted to make sure I wouldn't overlook a cool idea/place to look.
posted by caphector to Travel & Transportation around Japan (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Try surfing for ideas. Personally, I'd ask for t-shirts, bento boxes, portable chopsticks, and Lucky Cat items.

And though you said you're not interested in snacks, until you've had a green tea Kit-kat you have no idea what you're missing. ;-)
posted by goblinbox at 2:55 PM on July 19, 2010

I asked a friend to bring me back some fake food when she went many years ago now. My little dish of fish and noodles still sits cheerfully on a kitchen bookshelf.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:24 PM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: Japan has absolutely gorgeous paper. More than just origami paper, they have beautiful large pieces of printed velum, papyrus, cotton-based and tons of other varieties of fancy paper in every possible pattern and color. If you're into crafts or just want to frame some ace modern design work, have your dad bring you back some, sandwiched between cardboard.

I have to second fake food. It can be quite expensive, though. It's definitely the best I've ever seen, and I have a long-standing interest in fake food. (Is that strange?)

There's lots of gadgets and robot kits available in Akihabara. Finding something that would be cool to assemble in that district is as easy as spinning around and walking until you hit a store.
posted by Mizu at 3:32 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding paper. There's the exquisite handmade washi, and there's the goofy stationery, but it's all available in a diversity that would astonish you. And it'll be easy for your poor old dad to transport.

Ceramics are less easy to transport, but also available in a wonderful variety pretty cheaply.

A Japanese chef's knife made out of carbon steel (instead of stainless) is really nice if you're into cooking—you can find these for about $30 in a grocery store, or go up from there (in the neighborhood adjacent to the plastic-food neighborhood).
posted by adamrice at 3:37 PM on July 19, 2010

my dad started giving everyone cool puzzle boxes like these after his trips to Tokyo. I don't know much more about them than what's on that website, though.

He always found cool little things, ordinary things but with cool designs, like an ultra thin pocket mirror, aluminum business card case, etc. He also bought me a stampstamp of my name in Kanji, which proved to be a great icebreaker when I visited Osaka a few years later.
posted by snowymorninblues at 3:46 PM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: I'm a big fan of no-ren, those lovely hanging things that Japanese shops always have in front. They make nice home decorations. This place Bengara is in Asakusa, which is also just a fun place to go for a tourist, and probably has a bunch of other random stuff that he may find interesting--it's definitely worth checking out if he's never been.

Also, knives. And if you head out of Asakusa away from the river, I think, then you'll find a bunch of stores that specialize in kitchen goods, some for the restaurant industry. I saw these amazing soba knives that were like two feet long last time I was there...
posted by dubitable at 3:59 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku is about 6 stories of awesomeness. If your father goes there he will be able to find all sorts of cool shit.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:14 PM on July 19, 2010

A wonderful drink called Pocari Sweat. Please have him bring me some!
posted by matty at 4:55 PM on July 19, 2010

Tuttuki Bako! I've wanted one for ages but can't justify spending $50 on one.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:12 PM on July 19, 2010

Hard Minty Eyedrops. They're like Altoids for the eyes.
posted by emeiji at 5:14 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with KokuRyu, you really can't go wrong with Tokyu Hands. Last time I was there it was my one 'MUST GO' place. Just click around the site and see if there's anything that catches your eye.

For alcohol there's Shochu or Chu-Hai (a kind of highball of Shochu and fruit juice, etc). That doesn't make it over to the states as often as Sake.

Uniqlo is the best place to go for oddball t-shirts.

If you're interested in Japanese music at all you can have your dad pick up iTunes gift cards. (otherwise you'd need a Japanese credit card to use Japanese iTunes). But be warned that he'd probably have to pay cash for those.

If you want something very 'Japanese-y' and your dad stops by any of the big temples, he'd be able to buy good luck charms. These are very cheap, small, light, and not something you'd ever see here. I usually pick up a bunch of 'safe driving' charms with little suction cups that friends and family can stick on their windshield.
posted by Caravantea at 5:29 PM on July 19, 2010

Seconding eyedrops. Japan has something about mega-strong eyedrops. I got some there that were so strong I could taste them in the back of my throat (no joke). Probably not healthy, but an experience nonetheless.

I would say that all he has to do is walk around and keep his eyes peeled. Japan has so much weird stuff going on that he'll probably have trouble not just tripping over something interesting to get for you.
posted by fso at 5:32 PM on July 19, 2010

Green tea flavoured Kit Kats.
posted by WayOutWest at 5:42 PM on July 19, 2010

Nthing Tokyu Hands. It has all manner of things. I'm practically a local these days but I can still kill hours walking around a Tokyu Hands.
posted by zardoz at 5:56 PM on July 19, 2010

Mike Mills' "Humans" store in Shibuya. Anything.
posted by rhizome at 6:48 PM on July 19, 2010

A friend of mine travels to Japan somewhat regularly and always comes back with the coolest stuff. Mostly "normal" stuff in a slightly different, sort of understated, design - sneakers, backpacks, umbrellas and the like. But they're always so fabulous. I guess it's hard to ask someone (especially your dad, unless he is a fashion designer or has a great eye) for this as a souvenir, but yeah, that's what I'd want from Japan. Ordinary stuff with a unique design.

This exists in the USA if you live in New York, but what about something from Muji?

Also Nthing goblinbox's suggestion of weird flavors of Kit-Kat bars.
posted by Sara C. at 7:09 PM on July 19, 2010

I like the idea above about good luck charms. If your dad does any sightseeing, he'll most likely visit Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa (which is also where you can pick up the plastic food on Kappa-Bashi Street), and he can pick up any kind of good luck charm when he's there. I personally have a good luck charm encased in clear, ballistic plastic from Todaiji in Nara that is for safe driving - it hangs by a suction cup from my car windshield.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:18 PM on July 19, 2010

I usually pick up a bunch of 'safe driving' charms with little suction cups that friends and family can stick on their windshield.

Oooh, I didn't read that before posting!
posted by KokuRyu at 7:19 PM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: The place with the knives (and kitchen stuff) is called Kappabashi-dori, and if you like cooking stuff, it's great place to go. It's also the best place for fake food, though it is pricey, with one piece of sushi likely to cost more than $20.

If you're interested in things like the puzzle boxes, or the noren hanging curtains (great for doorways where you want a little separation, but don't want an actual door), or even Japanese straw sandals, or possibly the most comfortable Japanese creation, the jinbei, in Harajuku, there's a one-stop Japanese souvenir shop called the Oriental Bazaar. It's roughly four floors of all the traditional Japanese-style souvenirs you can shake a stick at, decently priced, and for clothes, available in western sizes as well, something which can be hard to find elsewhere. It's also next door to Kiddy Land, which has a sizeable amount of Ghibli stuff.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:00 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Uniqlo UT concept store in Harajuku is a good stop for t-shirts.
posted by cwhitfcd at 9:32 PM on July 19, 2010

Shochu is a good buy - it's often hard to come by in North America but there are stores in Tokyo that stock over 2000 varieties. If you don't know what to look for, just get something with the most interesting packaging (I chose a bottle featuring this awesome lizard-man). Or get a bottle of shiso-flavored Tantakatan, which is so great it has been the subject of two different AskMe posts.

If you want something even harder to find outside of Japan, there's Awamori, which is a shochu-like drink from Okinawa made with a slightly different process. Or Koshu (aged sake) - I had a glass of Daruma Masamune Koshu a few years ago and it was the best thing I've ever drank in my life.

Japan also makes some surprisingly tasty whisky, but it looks like you're in California and it's relatively easy to find there (at least in San Francisco).
posted by Gortuk at 8:49 AM on July 20, 2010

I've only been able to find it one time, but on upper floors of the east side of Tokyo Station there's a place with outlets selling gifts from every prefecture. The idea is, somebody returning from a trip (or maybe, not even going) can pick up the requisite omiyage (souvenirs) if that purchase was forgotten, at the destination.

But really, nobody has any trouble locating small but interesting omiyage anywhere in Japan.
posted by Rash at 10:20 AM on July 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all these suggestions; they're exactly what I was looking for. The suggestions for places to shop are also great; I'll have to ask my Dad what he used.

With any luck, the company that flew him out will give him a decent amount of leisure time.
posted by caphector at 10:57 AM on July 20, 2010

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