What’s a good gift to bring back from Japan? Uncle Leo wants something he can use. Aunt Bee asked for a decorative fan and the cousins think chopsticks would be nice. But what should you get for them, really? Remember that you’ve got to haul all the loot back home, so small and light things are best.
Look for a Hyaku-en (100 yen) store, great places to pick up small things for about a dollar. Possible gifts here include chopsticks, pocket notebooks with odd English expressions on the cover ("Happy zebra being with contentment!"), and small packages of Pocky – pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate or other flavors. If cost is no object, try a Three Coin (300 yen) store. Unfortunately, the choices here are mostly useful and less tacky, but we did find socks with sumo wrestlers on them.
Another possibility: check the candy section of the nearest drug store. You might want to try some of these yourself before buying for others, but consider grapefruit-flavored gum, yogurt-flavored lozenges, and caramel candy in a box labeled totally in Japanese, giving no hint of what it contains. There’s also Pinky, small plastic boxes filled with tiny mints.
Colorful posters for current attractions are usually available in hotel lobbies. These 8 by 11.5-inch prints can be matted and framed at home.
Some of the neatest little items are the omamori amulets available at many shrines and temples. They’re small bags the size of a tea bag, usually made of a rich brocade cloth. Some are embroidered with the type of good fortune they will bring, others with the name of the shrine or a scene. Inside the bag, there’s a slip of paper with a prayer written on it, but don’t open the omamori or the prayer’s power will be lost. Omamori cost from 350 to 500 yen, and can be bought to help towards good health, success in examinations, driving safety, or general good fortune.
Decorative fans are available in all kinds of shops at a wide range of prices. Mass produced printed fans sell for 500 to 1000 yen, and hand painted, one-of-a-kind fans are readily available for 50,000 yen. At either price, they do fold down nicely for packing!
Porcelain geisha masks aren’t sold for less than 20,000 yen, but assorted paper mache masks can be found for 6,000 yen and up . . . and they’re lighter!
Sake bottle and cup sets can be found in just about any color and price range from 2,500 yen and up. The higher the price, the more individual effort involved in painting or throwing the pottery.
For a lot of people, a souvenir pin or shirt from a Japanese Hard Rock Café would fit the bill. Tokyo, Osaka and Yokahama host HRCs. Unfortunately, you’re probably too late to visit the HRC in Kobe – it’s closing early in 2004.