Awesome gift for 11yo niece in Japan
June 9, 2016 6:31 AM   Subscribe

As it says in the title - visiting Japan soon, and need a gift for an 11 year old girl who likes "small, pretty things" (per her mom). I'm looking for something that will feel a touch exotic - something specifically American, though globalization makes this a tad more challenging.

The specific examples mom gave were things like pencil cases and handkerchiefs, though I feel like Japan has the market on those pretty much cornered (also pens). Those are the sort of things we put on our shopping list to buy IN Japan. However, if you have ideas for motifs that wouldn't be widely available in Japan, that would be cool.

Past gifts have included a spirograph, and one of my necklaces. "Exotic" stuff doesn't have to be expensive - apparently the pack of sidewalk chalk we sent a few years ago was mind blowing. (Is 11 too old for sidewalk chalk?)

I am looking for, in rough order of preference:
1) specific suggestions, ideally with links
2) ideas for motifs that would be appealing to a Japanese kid, but are not saturating the market there
3) ideas for what would excite the 11 year old girls in your life

Thanks for helping maintain my status as the cool foreign aunt :) I'm good with the 5-and-under set, but preteens remain a bit of a mystery to me.
posted by telepanda to Shopping (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Glass animals?
posted by carmicha at 6:45 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

My daughter loved self contained crafting kits at the age....making bracelets and earrings and things..
posted by pearlybob at 7:07 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've heard Japanese people say that they like American candy because it is sweeter than Japanese sweets -- maybe some cute animal-shaped candy, like these lollipops or Disney candy?
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:17 AM on June 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not sure where you are coming from in America, but the first thing that comes to mind for American-but-not-globalized would be southwestern turquoise jewelry. Something small, like a pendant or a cellphone charm (are those even still a thing over there? I haven't been in a year, but in the two years between then and the last time it seemed like the Japanese domestic phone market was starting to lose the charm attachment points.) If you're on the eastern seaboard, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Museum of the American Indian, both in DC, have amazing gift shops.
posted by fifthrider at 7:57 AM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Though it's probably not too hard to find them in Japan, how about neat rocks from foreign places? I was neither Japanese nor female, but a large uncut Tourmaline crystal and a chunk of optical (transparent) calcite were among my treasured collection of small, pretty things when I was 11. Both are found in the US (and other places) but not Japan, as far as I can tell.

Fossils and petrified wood could also work. (Please buy them from a park service shop, museum, or someone else who will at least try to insure they're ethically sourced.)
posted by eotvos at 8:00 AM on June 9, 2016

Love the idea of Native American jewelry, and you can get it - from Native American sources - on Amazon. How would something like this be?
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:30 AM on June 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Charm bracelet? I'm a big fan of gifts you can keep giving but aren't huge/fragile collectibles. And then as you travel or she travels or has new interests or whatever, you can add charms for those things.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:10 AM on June 9, 2016

Stickers. My kids (granted, all boys) are obsessed with stickers from skateboard/scooter companies, which you can buy online by the dozen (or just pop into your local skate shop). Some of these things are gorgeous, so don't think they're just cartoon skateboards. Examples.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:15 AM on June 9, 2016

When I was about 11, one of the best gifts I can remember receiving was a nice little mini backpack with some candy and fun goodies and stationery and pens inside. Not only was I getting a cool bag, but holy cow, it was full of other awesome things! Jackpot!

I know Japan kind of already has the market cornered on small, pretty things and stationery/pens, but finding a nice little bag in her favorite color and filling it up with some harder-to-find-abroad American candies and other fun bits and bobs seems like a good recipe for maximum 11-year old enjoyment. Cool aunt status: sustained.

Some candies I don't really remember seeing much of in Japan were things like Sweet Tarts, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Nerds, Pop Rocks, and Warheads. (Wow, that list is pretty sour.) I probably wouldn't bother much with chocolate items, because Meiji chocolate beats the pants off Hershey's all damn day, but those might be some fun goodies to try. 11 seems like the best age for riding the sour candy fun train.

I really like the crystals and cool rocks idea. Checking out museum gift shops in your area is also a good place to scout out some small neat things for pre-teens; sometimes they have city-specific little fun knick-knacks, and a lot of times they'll even have a kid-specific section with toys and games and stuff. If she's into jewelry, getting a little assortment of cute little accessories from Forever 21 or Charlotte Russe or something could be a nice way to fill up space in the bag.

Also, depending on how big the bag is, Target has these crayons and I think they are just the coolest. Pair that with a coloring book with a theme she likes, and I think she'll be pretty thrilled.

Good luck, cool aunt!
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:18 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about checking out the various souvenir shops for [your city] branded gear? Maybe something like a key chain or a magnets or a pen? (Some of the floaty pens can be fun).
posted by oceano at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2016

What about one of those high detailed for grownups coloring books with a set of markers?
posted by slateyness at 10:44 AM on June 9, 2016

Something I treasured at about that age was a wax envelope-sealing kit. You know, like queens do? It was awesome and involved fire. Bonus!
posted by thatone at 11:06 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

If I were in your shoes I would buy:

A food/candy/treat that is local to your area. Traditionally in Japan certain areas are known for specific foods, and people usually bring that food item back to share. I usually brought the candy Boston Baked Beans and or saltwater taffy.

A tote bag from a local shop.

Stickers that are used in scrapbooking (AC Moore and Michaels have rows of these. Target has some good options too).

Teenager Magazines (there are a bunch of different ones out there)

And if her mom oks it, I would buy the 2015 Rookie Yearbook- it does have some info that is more for older teens, but it encompesses what is trendy for teenage girls- it is based on the website of the same name. Or you could get one of the Humans of New York Books.
posted by momochan at 11:13 AM on June 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

gimp for making bracelets? or is that just Canada and not the US?
posted by pick_the_flowers at 12:07 PM on June 9, 2016

When I was in Japan, it was easy to spot faux American clothes because the English was off. A fun t-shirt from thinkgeek might be practical and fun. College apparel from somewhere appropriate ( I gave local Hopkins stuff to my math whiz neice & nephew. A classic-ish book like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland...
posted by childofTethys at 3:00 PM on June 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wait, does she know English? If she does, Barnes & Noble collectors editions of kids favorites like Anne of Green Gables are glorious and they cost $10. Japanese visitors at my old store snapped them up. And sometimes cried out with delight.
posted by BibiRose at 4:24 PM on June 9, 2016

Have you thought of Star Wars items? You can find small figures from Lego.

Swarovski items are also nice gifts. There are so many small flowers or little animals that you can create a collection you can continue to build.

Pens! If you can find a lovely pen and pencil set, it would be a lifelong gift. Even a fountain pen would be nice.

Faber-Castell is a popular American colored pencil product, there are beautiful sets at any art store or even on Amazon (if you shop with Amazon.)

Or a small trinket from Tiffany's. They make small silver charms that you can hang on a chain or a bracelet.

Enjoy your trip to the land of the rising sun!
posted by Yellow at 5:27 PM on June 9, 2016

Nail polish stickers.
posted by kjs4 at 6:40 PM on June 9, 2016

I wanted a gift for my eleven-year-old niece that was grown up without being too adult, if that makes sense. What I wound up doing was getting a pouch from Target's dollar section and filling it with:

- flavoured lip balms
- fun stickers
- nail stickers
- tiny little notebook and pen
- self-inking stamps
- hard candies
- funky barrettes
- little mirror

It was a HUGE hit.
posted by Tamanna at 10:22 PM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was about 11, one of the best gifts I can remember receiving was a nice little mini backpack with some candy and fun goodies and stationery and pens inside. Not only was I getting a cool bag, but holy cow, it was full of other awesome things! Jackpot!

Same here, definitely. I remember getting a present around that age which was just a wrapped box containing bath beads, cool colored pencils, a few stuffed animals, candy, etc. I still remember being totally wowed by it.

Chunks of crystal and cool rocks, definitely some of my prized possessions. Also had a sour candy obsession. And mini stuffed animals were so cute, especially unusual ones like sheep or birds.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:06 PM on June 10, 2016

Mrs Grossmans stickers (there are packs and activity kits too).
Bonnie Bell lip smackers in an array of flavours.
Magazines - New Moon, Rookie, etc
posted by jrobin276 at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2016

Do Shrinky Dinks exist in Japan? I just blew my niece and nephew's minds by having them make drawings on shrinky dink paper and then shrinking them in the oven. It would let her make her own tiny adorable stuff and if it's not a common item there she could really impress all her friends by making them personal cell phone charms or whatever.
posted by MsMolly at 9:11 PM on June 13, 2016

Updating that I went the "tons of small stuff in a cool bag" route - I found a nice Land's End satchel on clearance and stuffed it with stickers, craft store doodads, a couple of preteen magazines, and a wide assortment of American sour candy. My only regret is that I was unable to find pop rocks (I tried grocery store, Target, even a gas station!). And an 8-pack of Starburst flavored lip gloss to share with her friends.

Unfortunately I didn't get to deliver it in person - she and her mom were sick and didn't come to the family gathering - but her grandma and uncle loved it, and when I talked to her mom on the phone she said it was a smash hit. So, thanks for the ideas!
posted by telepanda at 6:27 AM on July 27, 2016

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