My Favorite Japanese Souvenirs: Sensu

A convenient way to keep cool in humid summers

By Kim    - 2 min read

Before moving to Japan, I had no idea about how hot and sticky the summer months were here. Literally everywhere else I'd lived up until Japan had dry summers, so I'd never had to worry about stifling humidity before. I distinctly remember researching summer temperature averages before we flew over (we arrived in June), and I thought to myself "oh, that doesn't sound bad at all!". Rookie mistake.

Thankfully, there are ways to beat the heat that are not only functional, but can be very beautiful too! Sensu, or folding fans, are just one of the ways to stay cool and get yourself a beautiful souvenir at the same time. Sometimes they are simply made of paper, but mine is a fabric one on a wooden frame. It was a gift from a Japanese friend and I treasure it not only because it's like an elegant work of art, but because it's so useful.

Sensu can be purchased at a myriad of places in Japan, from roadside rest area retailers and 100 yen stores right through to dedicated souvenir shops and artisanal boutiques. I often recommend Omotesando's Oriental Bazaar to people looking for a one-stop-shop for souvenirs in Tokyo, and they have a wide variety of sensu there with traditional patterns. The prices are quite reasonable, too.

During the summer months, I basically refuse to leave the house now without popping my sensu into my bag. It provides instant relief from the summertime heat, it's incredibly lightweight, and it manages to look stylish and beautiful at the same time. If you live somewhere with a hot summer climate, you like souvenirs that actually have a functional use, or you're after a practical gift for someone that won't weigh down your luggage, sensu tick all of those boxes. I hope they make your summer adventures in Japan a little more bearable!

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Kim

Kim @kim.b

I'm an expat who has lived abroad for almost a decade, including 7 years in Japan. I've also visited 44 of 47 prefectures and hope to get to the last three someday! I'm particularly fond of exploring off the beaten path destinations, gardens, and tea houses, and have a real interest in Japan's growing vegan scene.

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Sander van Werkhoven a month ago
Nice! And indeed very useful in summer....

While I have a few proper ones, most I have are plastic uchiwa. i started collecting those during my first summer visit to Japan, visiting many matsuri in Tohoku. Turns out most matsuri have their own uchiwa! Usually with a nice picture and some information about the matsuri on one side, and an advertisement on the back. En best of all: those usually don't cost you even a single yen....
Kim Author a month ago
Oh yes, I know that SoftBank used to have uchiwa with their cute dog mascot on them...my kids always wanted them!! I'm okay with advertising when it serves a purpose, same with the convenient packets of tissues that people hand out on the streets!
Elena Lisina a month ago
Beautiful! My first visit to Japan was in middle September and it was very hot! I didn't want to travel in summer until it was need - climbing Fuji-san is possible only in summer. But strangely the last years' summer visit was fine! I bet I was prepared mentally and thus could stand it. :D
Kim Author a month ago
Haha, I was very unprepared on my first Japanese summer and I felt like I was melting...I think mindset is very important, although summer is still probably my least favorite of all the Japanese seasons!
Elizabeth S a month ago
The seasonal and portable things make the best gifts for folks from abroad, don’t they?

I often give sensu snd uchiwa as gifts.

In the winter, I often get a box of Yuzu-scented bath tablets and give them as little gifts for visitors from abroad.
Kim Author a month ago
Yes! 100%. Lightweight means easy (and cheap!) to mail, or easy to pop in luggage. Love the bath tablet idea...I'm a massive fan of anything that will actually get used, rather than just sit in a drawer or closet.