Japanese stuff that American kids like
June 27, 2006 10:27 PM   Subscribe

Calling all kids and kids at heart... what kind of souvenir would you want from Japan?

I'm a long term resident of Tokyo and will be going home to attend a family reunion (in California). I will be meeting a few of my young cousins/neices/nephews for the first time and I'd like to get them each a little something that will open their world to something new, plus win them over as the kewlest grownup.

If you were a kid between 10-16, what kind of Japanese stuff would you like?

Here's what I have in mind so far: weird snack items, plastic build-it-yourself model robot kits... (Fireworks are great and I have brought them pre-9/11, but doubt I could get away with hiding them in my luggage now.)

And as for the adults, what Japanese foods and items would non-Japanophiles would enjoy? Sweet beans are deelicious but tend to gross out conservative Americans. Same with anything fishy. What do you like?

PS. "Asian-themed" trinkets, cheesy calligraphy, etc... I refuse to go there!
posted by QueSeraSera to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Pocky, obviously. (Yeah, it's possible to get it here, but I doubt your target kids have ever had it, or if they have then not commonly.) Make sure to bring chocolate, but also bring some of the more obscure flavors.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:30 PM on June 27, 2006

For the girls: yukatas, geta, hyper-girly bath, cosmetic, and toiletry products. For the boys, some anime (of the non-porn variety). And, of course, you can't go wrong with Japanese candy. It's a surprise in every package.
People who aren't into Japanese food can generally dig yakitori.
posted by Soliloquy at 10:38 PM on June 27, 2006

Everytime I go home for vacation, the kids I have to deal with always ask me why I didn't bring them any Japanese Yu-gi-oh cards.
posted by nightchrome at 10:45 PM on June 27, 2006

plastic build-it-yourself model robot kits

Close, but no cigar. Models suck. Models are homework: I have to build the damn thing, and then I can't even play with it when I'm done. I don't want to have to build it — and I want it to be made from die-cast metal, because I'm going to play with it hard and I'll be pissed if it breaks.

Specifically, I'd want a kargosaur. But yes, some sort of Japanese robot. Japanese robots kick ass. Mr. Big Toyland had tons of die-cast Japanese robots, and it was the coolest store in the world.
posted by cribcage at 10:47 PM on June 27, 2006

Hello Kitty! But that may vary depending on your location. I never saw much HK stuff in Indiana, but I saw it everywhere in San Francisco.
posted by web-goddess at 10:56 PM on June 27, 2006

Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but we just got back from Japan yesterday.

Things we LOVED: The weird soda and candy flavors we don't have. I collected four kinds of KitKats we don't have in the US (green tea, red bean, fruit parfait and...some unidentified one with a white French-style label). Sodas that cracked us up (from the ubiquitous vending machines) included Bubble Man, Tropical Rainbow, Calpis, Pocari Sweat, CC Lemon and more. The mangled English on the cans alone is worth the 120 yen.

We also got into the cell-phone charm thing after seeing everyone from age 10 to 100 boasting one or more hanging from their phones.
posted by GaelFC at 11:00 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

For my child-at-heart, something Sumo related.

For the nibblies... wasabi peas, unless they're passe in the US now.
posted by pompomtom at 11:15 PM on June 27, 2006

For adults, I had good response when giving Santen megusuri with hyper-zing in the black container. I think it's called "FX Neo" but I could be off. Anyway, I gave several types of Japanese megusuri and it was a hit. It's small, cheap and the payoff is immediate.
posted by planetkyoto at 11:45 PM on June 27, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, these are all great suggestions!

I've been in Japan so long I've taken all those things (Pocky, Hello Kitty et al, anime, funky KitKats, Engrish, EYEDROPS!) for granted. But no to the robot models? Not even the easier, snap-together poseable ones like Gundam?

The cellphone strap suggestion reminded me of the ultra-realistic display models of last season's cellphones that shops often sell for cheap when they're done with them.

And Yu-gi-oh cards? Don't know anything about them but will check them out.

Please keep them coming!
posted by QueSeraSera at 12:19 AM on June 28, 2006

You will definitely be coolest grown-up. Mmm Japanese candy. My dad had a colleage who was Japanese and he always brought me yummy candy and cookies and such.

Ah yes and for the older teens/adults with senses of humor, anything with Engrish is alwyas amusing.
posted by radioamy at 12:40 AM on June 28, 2006

Raid the 7-11! I always spend my last bit of foreign currency at the convenience store buying all matter of candies, treats and snacks and then giving them to friends and family. Everyone seems to love getting candy/snacks from foreign countries!

I love GaelFC's idea of drinks, but I would worry about transporting them. Weight and danger of spillage.

Also, a friend often hits the 100Y stores and scores all sorts of bizarre trinkets and stuff that people of all ages love.

I generally request Melon Pan and those Peanut Butter sandwiches that are round and very very processed and sealed in plastic at 7-11/AmPm.
posted by shoepal at 12:54 AM on June 28, 2006

Oh, I just remembered another Engrish bit that always gets a chuckle and can go on your list. There's a brand of chocolate sold in many conbinis called "Asse".
Clearly not for the little kiddies, but amusing and tasty nonetheless. Only if you appreciate potty humor though.
posted by nightchrome at 1:19 AM on June 28, 2006

Ooooh! That tiny Re-ment stuff they have!!!! Like this.
Maybe this is just a personal obsession. But I reckon most girls would love it.

Hello Kitty seems a bit boring, you can get her anywhere, no?

Most grown up people I know love all the wonderful chocolate sweets they have, more specifically the little chocolate treats... I can't seem to find them now, but I meant those little chocolate/biscuit mushrooms. Also the mikado-type stuff, and the koalas.
Well, pretty much anything and everything (sweet) listed in the Jlist snacks section really.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:23 AM on June 28, 2006

NJS certified bicycle parts.
posted by fixedgear at 2:25 AM on June 28, 2006

Toys - I have a little blue mouse magnet a friend brought from Japan, and it's so cheerful. I love it.

The only thing better would be a plastic build it yourself robot kit.

(For adults - tea is always good, because it's light and much better there.)
posted by jb at 3:36 AM on June 28, 2006

Stickers? You can go to the Hakuhinkan toy store in Ginza (closer to Shinbashi) or to Kiddy Land in Harajuku and get lots of sheets of stickers to add to your gifts. If you're willing to spend about 3000 yen, you can also get sticker-making gadgets, too. And those tin badge-makers are fun.

For the older girls, Sony Plaza has a great selection of fancy, glittery fake nails. You stick them on with adhesive tape (probably included, perhaps not, so you should make sure), and they're reuseable, so they're actually pretty handy. If they're younger, the Odaiba Toys R Us has a selection of cosmetics for little girls (nail colors that you can peel off, etc.).

Tamagocchi? Little Tetris keychains? Steel "chie no wa" puzzles? Manga translated into English (there's a fair selection at the Tower Records bookstore in Shibuya) and/or their Japanese originals for comparison (there was this recent thread that you could refer to if you go this route: manga for kids)? My son got a kick out of a Vietnamese version of Doraemon we found in Hanoi, and he still flips through it even though he can't read a word of it!
Man, I love thinking up omiyage for kids... : )
posted by misozaki at 3:58 AM on June 28, 2006


It's seasoning you put on rice. There are fish-based ones (though it's not that obvious) and there are other flavourings as well. YUMMIEST THING EVER. I brought it back home and it was a HIT.

Koara no macchi (the koala biscuits) and Pocky went down very well with the non-Japanese people in my touring crew (Americans especially). Wasabi flavoured dried pea snacks were also surprisingly popular.

Are any of them crafty? Japanese crafts are lovely. You could also get them fortunes and charms from the temples - even if they're not into good luck charms, they're still great works of art.
posted by divabat at 4:09 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Is there an English language website that cells the cellphone charms, by the way?
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:12 AM on June 28, 2006

Anything with bad English is always a hit. The 100 yen store should have all kinds of weird candy and stationary. Uniqlo also has kid sized t-shirts with english writing for about 500 yen.

Kids might also be interested in cool cell phone straps, those theme boxes of tiny plastic supermarket products, or stationary with Japanese writing on it. My cousins really like the San-X stuff we give out.

I second the interesting flavors of Kit Kat, etc for the adults. 100 yen stores are also good for traditional looking ceramics, bamboo products (vases, baskets, etc.) and neat kitchen utensils (cooking chopsticks, daikon graters, ikebana dishes). You might also want to consider bringing traditional senbe (the big thick salty ones). They aren't too scary, but they aren't something you would find in most American households.
posted by Alison at 4:13 AM on June 28, 2006

Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink

At first I thought this was just a joke, but I saw it for sale in Tokyo in a toy store called KiddyLand last year. Probably not suitable as a souvenier for actual kids, but that's a definite winner for the (hooch-loving) kid at heart.
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:13 AM on June 28, 2006

Clever new pen or pencils that haven't come to the US yet - for adults...
posted by kdern at 5:14 AM on June 28, 2006

For kids - school supplies. Cool pens, pencils, markers, notepads. Especially popular with girls, in my own experience. I'm headed to New York this afternoon for a two-day conference, and I'm stopping on 32nd street for mandoo ramen for me and school supplies for my niece.

For grownups, hard candies in all the "unusual" flavors that we don't run into much. There's this great grapefruit stuff in what looks like a black, oversized matchbox that I would love to run into again.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:15 AM on June 28, 2006

Is Fruits magazine still being published? I would think that might go over well with someone.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:37 AM on June 28, 2006

If I had a say in a gift from Japan and I was a kid, I would want a baseball hat or t-shirt from one of the pro baseball teams such as the Giants. Food and candy lasts a day at most. A hat could last years and always remind them of you.

What could be better than having your neice asked at school where she got the hat and her answer being, "My kewl aunt QueSeraSera who lives in Japan"?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:19 AM on June 28, 2006

I don't remember the name, but I would almost pay someone to ship me a box of those hot coffee's in a can that seem to be in every vending machine!

Oh... that and some Pocari Sweat!
posted by matty at 6:55 AM on June 28, 2006

How about some high quality chopsticks? I bought some when I was in Japan 6 years ago and when I use them it makes me think fondly of my visit.
posted by mmascolino at 7:16 AM on June 28, 2006

I 2nd the baseball hat/shirt idea for fan of the sport. That certainly be a conversation piece and not something they could easily get in the States.
posted by mmascolino at 7:17 AM on June 28, 2006

Hm. For a smaller kid, I'd recommend a Totoro plush! But not a small one - the one my wife got in Taiwan was more like a foot across. (Well, I think it's cool). Extra bonus points for a cat-bus plush.

Pocky, not so much - we have it in most grocery stores around here - is it really that hard to find outside of Japan?
posted by GuyZero at 7:30 AM on June 28, 2006

GuyZero: the goal is not just Pocky, but the strange flavors of Pocky. I can't speak for Japan, but from Thailand I brought back Larb-flavor (savory) and choco-banana, for example.

(Friends rarely get souvenirs anymore when I travel, just weird food items.)
posted by whatzit at 7:37 AM on June 28, 2006

When I went home from Japan a couple months ago, the omiyage I took for my cousins were:

Loop In My Heart/HEY! - m-flo loves EMYLI and YOSHIKA/m-flo loves Akiko Wada (cd single for my 16-year-old boy cousin who's into hip hop at the moment)

Nara gentei Hello Kitty keychain (dressed as a deer, for my 13 year old girl cousin)

Mushi King toy (a realistic-looking beetle that you can shoot across the floor and battle other toys with, for boy cousin, age 11)

Hello Kitty silverware/chopsticks set (like the kindergarteners at my school use, for girl age 5)

UsaHana plastic cup and Shinkansen plastic cup (both Sanrio characters, but not as well known in the US I think, for girl and boy age 1)

I supplemented this with coins, pachinko balls (I find them on the ground all over the place here - keep your eyes open when you pass any pachinko parlors), oddly flavored candy, and oddly flavored potato chips.

For the more grown-up people, I brought two types of yatsuhashi - one with sakura-flavored filling and one with pomegranate. Though, as you're not as close to Kyoto as I am, that might be a bit more difficult. I would go with something that's regional for where you are instead.
posted by emmling at 8:15 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I just came back from Japan and as gifts for adults and kids I bought a crapload of those little collectable toys that come in little boxes (you're supposed to collect the whole set but don't know which one you're getting). I went to a toy/comic type store and picked up ones on subjects that I thought people might like and whole bunch extra for people I forgot.

They're only around 200 Yen and people love them because they're usually pretty wacky. Some comic stores also sell them out of the box so you know what you're getting.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:39 AM on June 28, 2006

Engrish T-Shirts.

(But where to find them? The ROX depato in Asakusa had some interesting possibilities, but the most outlandish examples I see people wearing, where do those come from?)
posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on June 28, 2006

There are also gumball type machines everywhere and you can buy little toys, cool pins, etc, for 100 Yen. (I bought some in the Tokyo eki (train station) and some in Akahaibara in Yodobashi Camera.

If you loaded up on a ton of these (all of which come in individual capsules), you could make grab bags. Kinda like Happy Meal prizes only cooler.
posted by GaelFC at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2006

Bring me an authentic Katana. I'll even pay for it. I know it's hardly a "trinket" but this is the only thing I want from Japan.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 10:05 AM on June 28, 2006

Disclaimer, I am spoiled. I have been studying Japanese. I buy groceries in Asian markets at least once a month. There is a 100-yen store at the local mall. These things distort my view of what can be easily obtained in the states. Furthermore, I am a grown woman who loves Hello Kitty.

It all depends on the age and temperment of the people for whom you are shopping. Chopsticks are always good, and junior sized ones are tough to find in the states. Hello Kitty stuff is not just for little girls anymore, and her friends are fun too (totemo kawaii desu, ne), so it is worth visiting the Sanrio store. Don't skip over the kitchen items!

Other items of general interest, maneki-neko (great for any cat lovers), coin boxes, bath salts, tins of tea, tea cups, sake sets... aw the heck with it, go someplace like Daiso and go wild!

If anybody in your circle of must-shop-for friends is even considering studying Japanese, be sure to pick up an issue or two of Hiragana Times, and maybe a dual language story book.
posted by ilsa at 10:46 AM on June 28, 2006

My kids love origami right now and they would love to get all kinds of origami paper in different sizes colours and shapes.
Also, Japan has awesome pens, pencils, erasers etc. in the most amazing packaging, everything's all small and perfect and (little girls especially) love that stuff.
posted by chococat at 10:48 AM on June 28, 2006

I agree with the pen/ pencil idea. When I was about that age, my dad went to Japan and brought me back some awesome watercolor pencils. My favorite present from that trip was stationery. They have some really pretty stuff in very cute packages, and not all of it is cutesy. Maybe they would also be interested in a brush calligraphy set?
posted by rmless at 12:12 PM on June 28, 2006

Here is a story from my personal experience.

I have a younger brother, 2 years younger. My dad went to Japan when we were around 7-9 years old. He brought ME a Japanese comic strip book. I liked to read comics like Calvin and Hobbes, so I guess he thought I would like this.

I hated it. I obviously couldn't read Japanese. Why would I want this thing?

To make it worse, he brought my brother an amazingly cool 'secret box'. It was a wooden box that you had to know a special combination of little latches and slides you had to move in the right combination to open. He still has it to this day, and the comic book was thrown out long ago. I still bring it up whenever I talk with my family about souveneirs.

Moral of the story: get one of those cool boxes. And get the SAME THING for each kid.
posted by The Wig at 1:31 PM on June 28, 2006

Do they still have candy wrapped in rice paper? It was definately a kid thing running around saying, "Look, I'm gonna eat the wrapper!" And the wrappers tasted good too.
posted by snsranch at 4:25 PM on June 28, 2006

Introduce them to the wonderful world of gashapon & shokugan (capsule toys)! That Re-Ment stuff is GREAT. You could also try some J-pop, like Hikaru Utada or Ayumi Hamasaki.

Hello Kitty and Pocky are good things, but they're becoming more widely available here. (Stores like Suncoast and even Wal-Mart superstores have Pocky now.) If you do go with Hello Kitty, get something that generally isn't found here, like this toy HK capsule machine.

Some Ramune soda with those crazy bottle stoppers would be awesome too!
posted by IndigoRain at 9:04 PM on June 28, 2006

Response by poster: I'll be going with a combo of snacks with capsule toys/collectibles/robots plus school supplies for the girls, and rampage through Tokyu Hands, Muji, and the 100yen shop for the adult souvenirs.

It will be a fairly big crowd and the other relatives probably won't be bringing anything for the kids, so I'll be saving the bigger, heavier, more expensive gift ideas (bike parts--haha) for next time.

Thanks so much, everyone!

I'd mark best answers, but then the whole page would be aglow...
posted by QueSeraSera at 9:38 PM on June 28, 2006

No, tiny, exquisite jewel like bike parts ;-)
posted by fixedgear at 2:09 PM on July 3, 2006

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