Japan is famed for its gadgets, but there’s more to the country’s manufacturing prowess than you’d imagine. Having been caught up in a sudden rush of material madness, our editorial team has spent the last few months scouring the country for some of the most original, best-value Japanese products available right now – from the everyday to the extravagant. Check out our top 25 below and start filling up that wallet...
The top 25: 1-13
Changing watches to fit your outfit or mood may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to this magical contraption. With a face and strap made from electronic paper, the Fes Watch contains 24 visual patterns that can be alternated with the push of a button. The creators are also working on a new model that would allow users to add their own designs to the mix.
A pencil sharpener fit for a samurai, the Tsunago stands out with its razor-sharp blades. But this miniature miracle won Japan’s Good Design Award on the back of a quite different feature – its remarkable ability to fuse two short pencils into a single long one.
Fujitsu sewer flood detector
A real problem when the rain really comes pouring down, sewer flooding has caused plenty of damage in urban areas – including Tokyo – over the past few years. This system relies on sensors installed in manholes and transmits data wirelessly every five minutes, making it possible to immediately detect sudden water level increases and prevent flood damage caused by torrential rains. pr.fujitsu.com/jp/news/2016/08/15.html
Take control of any battery-powered contraption with this revolutionary power source, which syncs with your smartphone and gives you mastery of anything from RC toys to electric toothbrushes. Just wave or tilt your phone and the MaBee-equipped item will bend to your will. The associated app can handle up to ten sources at a time, opening up all sorts of possibilities.
A stylishly white, electrically assisted wheelchair that’s also equipped with high-grade Yamaha speakers, the conceptual &Y (‘Andy’) is sure to funk up your rolling. Note that this concept model is unfortunately not for sale.
Aritayaki beer glass
Arita in Saga prefecture has been a pottery town since the 17th century and its wares are still considered some of the finest in Japan. These handsome beer glasses are shaped to bring out the best in every brew – be it a wildly hoppy hipster ale or a cheap supermarket can.
It works just like a regular stapler – bar the staples – is available in four colours, and couldn’t be easier to use. Say goodbye to staple refills and painful staple removal!
Mark, circle or draw a box around parts of text you want to focus on, then scan these with your camera. The data will be transferred to your phone, giving you access to hand-drawn notes anywhere. Developed by stationery maker Pentel, the AnkiSnap demonstrates that the gap between analogue and digital can indeed be bridged. pentel.co.jp/products/degitalstationery/ankisnap
Kikuhime miniature sake barrel
These 300ml mini-barrels look exactly like the full-sized versions often seen at celebratory events, and are filled with the Ishikawa-based Kikuhime brewery’s signature ‘Kiku’ sake. Your Friday-night nihonshu sip just got a lot classier. blog.kikuhime.co.jp/2011/05/300ml.html
The Shimatani Syouryu workshop’s handcrafted, supremely durable tin plates are available in four sizes and can be bent, adjusted and styled almost like origami paper. Perfect for any occasion.
Toyo Sasaki cold sake flask
Nothing beats a cup of cold sake on a hot, humid day, but adding ice tends to dilute the flavours. Solving the problem is this flask that comes equipped with an ice pocket on the side. It keeps your drink cool while maintaining the kick – and looks very stylish throughout. toyo.sasaki.co.jp/products/?action_products_detail=true&series_cd=636
Gofun nail polish
Kyoto's Uebaeso, the oldest paint shop in Japan, also makes this nail polish that's crafted from scallop shells. Known as gofun, the material is easy on the nails, lacks the usual nail polish smell, can be removed with alcohol and comes in a variety of colours – including traditional Japanese ones such as agate and red plum.
Fruit candy bar soap
It looks just like a fruity and delicious ice pop, but licking this bar isn't recommended – it's actually a piece of soap, albeit a very colourful one. Handmade and carefully polished, it's made mainly from fruit and other natural materials and has a moisturising effect – not to mention that it smells absolutely wonderful.
The top 25: 14-25
P+G Design silicone pouch
This cutesy, palm-sized pouch is great for storing things like small change, pills or cosmetics. Available in a wide range of colours and patterns, it employs a round design that was once thought of as old-fashioned but is now undergoing a revival.
Top Shimitori Rescue
Have you ever noticed a visible stain on your clothes right before an important meeting? This miracle-working sheet can save you the embarrassment: just place the water-absorbing Shimitori on the opposite side of the stained fabric, apply some liquid onto the stain and – voilà – it's gone. Although it works on almost any kind of substance, you'll need to use it before the stain dries.
Knocking out simple, attractive bicycles since 2002, Tokyobike adheres to a simple concept: comfort above speed, ideally put together for the local life. The minimalist brand has been such a success in its home city, in fact, that they now have outlets as far afield as New York, London and Melbourne.
Azmaya Kyusu teapot
Made in the traditional ceramics centre of Tokoname, this simplistic teapot is even more impressive than it looks. Light and easy to handle, it’s made entirely of clay, ensuring that nothing interferes with the taste of the tea, while the superb craftsmanship prevents leakage when pouring. azmaya.co.jp/item/youto/daidokoro/平急須
Drawing on the heritage of Edo Kiriko glassware, these simply shaped but highly decorative cups come with a lid and feature artisanal designs carved directly onto the surface, the bottom and even the inner base. Handcrafted by Tokyo-born sisters Yuma and Yuka Arii, they’re beautiful enough to be displayed in a gallery but also highly practical and easy to use.
Designed by young artisan Shuji Nakagawa and Thomas Lykke of the Danish OeO studio, the Ki-oke marries Scandinavian simplicity with the finest Japanese materials – soft sawara cypress and lignitised cedar buried underground for over 2,000 years – and symbolises the future of traditional Japanese woodwork.
Everyone wants to capture life’s most precious memories on camera, but the moment can be lost before you get your smartphone out of your pocket. Enter Blincam, a bluetooth-compatible, glasses-mounted camera which takes shots with the literal blink of the eye.
More and more cities around the world are making use of ‘smart cards’ for public transport, but Japan’s IC cards are in a class of their own. Tokyo’s Suica and Pasmo can be used on JR trains across the country as well as on most buses, but what really sets them apart is how they hint at a cashless future – most convenience stores and many vending machines are already IC-compatible.
Taking care of a house plant can be harder than it sounds. But what if you had something that told you when the soil is too dry, when the plant is too cold or too hot, and if your green baby is getting enough natural light? With this ‘smart pot’ you can say goodbye to botanical blunders. By hooking Planty up to its smartphone app, you can confirm conditions at any time and even water the plant when you’re not at home.
Kiriko Nanako earrings
Edo Kiriko, Tokyo’s traditional style of cut glassware, boasts almost 200 years of history. One classic Edo Kiriko pattern is the drop-like nanako, which is used in these artisanal earrings made from crystal glass. Transparent and shiny, the beauties come in three sizes and make for the perfect gift – either for yourself or that special someone.
Meri indoor shoes
A brand of knitted zori (Japanese-style sandals) for wearing indoors, Meri has taken this traditional style of footwear and turned it into a unique combination of softness, the comfort of knitted materials and adorable Nordic designs.
M+ wallets and bags
Both a studio and a retail store, Kuramae leather shop M+ really stands out from the crowd. Artisan Yuichiro Murakami, who used to be an architect, puts his heart – and the traditional techniques he learned in Italy – into the products, which ooze simplicity and functionality. Get one of his wallets and you just might be set for life.