Travelling to Japan? Bring an empty suitcase. The country is chock-full of inimitable and wacky products ranging from the completely useless but fun, like plastic food models, to the gorgeous artisanal tableware that looks good during dinner or in a display case. Corny keychains and snow globes these are not – here are ten products that make great Japanese souvenirs.
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From trusty pen brand Pilot, these erasable ballpoint pens and highlighters mean you’ll never have to cross-out your work again. Using a special ink that turns invisible when heated, Frixion pens look like magic the first time you erase a line. They’re available in a rainbow of colours, and even better, you can purchase ink refills so you can use the same pen forever. Since the ink disappears at high temperatures, though, you might want to stick to a traditional ballpoint when signing a document.
From ¥160. Available at most convenience and stationery stores.
Nothing beats the comfort of freshly cooked rice and with this bento box rice cooker, you’ll never have to reheat rice again. The size of a small lunch box, this rice cooker is designed to cook a single serving of rice as quickly as possible. It’s highly portable and can be plugged in anywhere, including at your desk. The bento rice cooker is a creation of Thanko, an electronics company known for out-there appliances like the underarm air-con, but we say any rice cooker that can double as a lunchbox is genius – now we just need a mini frying pan with a lid.
¥6,980, available online from Thanko.
Ubiquitous throughout Tokyo, Nitori is like a mini-Ikea without the meatballs. The affordable products here usually serve a double purpose to save space in tiny Japanese apartments. This duck-shaped rice measuring cup – the bill is a clip for your rice bag – (¥555) is both adorable and functional and we love this innovative butter case (¥925) that also serves as a slicer. Not so useful but oh-so-cute are these produce-themed pet beds (¥2,264) offered in various fruits and veggie shapes like eggplant, pumpkin, tomato and edamame.
Locations throughout Japan or online.
Incense isn’t just reserved for temples and shrines. Hibi, meaning ‘everyday’ in Japanese, are matchstick-style incense sticks that burn for ten minutes. Scratch the stick against the box, place it on the applicable mat and enjoy natural scents like lemongrass, sandalwood, lavender, and more. Highly portable and compact, everything you need is within the box so you can light incense anywhere, anytime.
Kotatsu, low coffee tables with built-in heaters commonly found in Japanese households and some cafés in Tokyo, are popular with both humans and felines. Wakayama-based company Chicken Nakata is selling a five kilogramme box of tangerines, the snack of choice for kotatsu-sitters, along with a dedicated cat kotatsu. That’s a feline-friendly low table without the heater underneath, which would be a little too close for cat comfort here. Just stick a blanket under the tabletop and your cats are ready for a kotatsu party.
¥5,628, available online from Chicken Nakata.
The language barrier in Japan is still quite a problem for visitors and locals. What happens if there’s a Japanese-only menu, or you need to ask someone a question? The compact translator Pocketalk is like an advanced version of Google Translate. Up to 74 languages can be translated by voice, and the nifty little device can also interpret via camera, for those kanji-filled menus, and even convert currency in realtime. Pocketalk is increasingly popular in Japan as a way to ensure smooth communication without any awkwardness.
¥19,800, available online from Pocketalk.
Not only does Belay protect your furniture from scratches and scuffs, it’s also immensely satisfying to peel off. Belay is a clear coat that can be painted onto surfaces as a temporary shield. At any time, the paint can be peeled off to bring the furniture back to its original state. Removing the paint coat in one go, like peeling off a long layer of cling wrap, is not only convenient, it’s also surprisingly enjoyable.
From ¥16,500, available online.
Beauty and bath
While initially shocking, first-time visitors to Japan are bewitched by the warm waters of onsen, or hot springs. You can't bring home the onsen water – however, onsen enthusiasts can turn their own humble bathroom into a hot spring with special boxes of bath salts sold in drugstores. One of the most popular brands is Tabi no Yado, which offers two types of powder, clear and milky, to recreate the warm waters of famous onsen including Kusatsu, Hakone and Beppu.
From ¥590. Available at most drugstores.
When a normal eye mask just won’t cut it, try putting a heated pad on your face. Kao MegRhythym is a heated eye mask that feels like a warm spa towel. Perfect for long plane rides, the mask heats up and soothes your eyes and forehead to prevent puffiness and fatigue when you wake up. The masks come in a variety of scents: lavender is supposed to ease you into sleep, while yuzu apparently energises your body and appearance. Or for something to wake you up after a quick nap at work, there’s the menthol eye mask.
From ¥980. Available at most drugstores.
Who would’ve thought to put menthol in eye drops? Rohto, the manufacturer of these cooling eye drops, says they’ll make your eyeballs appear brighter and whiter. The minty shock of the menthol is alarming at first, but after that, it starts to feel refreshing. Think of these eye drops as a quick pick-me-up before a meeting or a date. They’re also popular during hay fever season in spring – the menthol helps to soothe itchy eyes.
From ¥348. Available at most drugstores.
You can customise and even design your own pair of sneakers, jeans, journals, fragrances and souvenirs
From fashion and beauty products to toys, traditional crafts and kitchen ware, find your perfect Japanese souvenirs here
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