A modern phenomenon, Japan is known for all things “Kawaii!” Phonetically pronounced “Kah-why-ee” and meaning loveable, cute, charming, pretty, and darling, it’s a cultural trend I have finally grown accustomed to. For each birthday, wedding, or Christmas holiday that comes around, I think about the unique Japanese merchandise available to send back home as gifts. It gets a little more challenging the longer I reside in Japan, but nevertheless there’s always something kawaii waiting to be discovered. Here is my list of Top "Kawaii" Japanese Souvenirs:
Whimsical Chopsticks & Chopsticks Rests: Mostly made of wood or bamboo, chopsticks don’t discriminate genders, so they are an ideal present for both male and female. They reflect gentleness and kindness, and when given as a wedding gift, it represents fertility. Include a cute and quirky rest, such as a porcelain sakura or an origami crane, and one’s table setting is immediately transformed into something unique as the person you’ve gifted.
Hachimaki (鉢巻 “Helmet Scarf”) or Japanese headband: Worn as a symbol of perseverance, effort, or courage, the headbands are typically long white strips of fabric with the rising sun motif. At the Oriental Bazaar located in Harajuku, you can find both white and black headbands printed with various slogans in kanji such as: Number One, Victory, Ninja or Fighting Spirit. My friends back home would probably sport these headbands during a marathon or 5k run!
City Mug from Starbucks: Help a loved one complete their worldwide collection! The City Mug Series in Japan is very colorful and contains a lot of artwork that best represents each major city. They’re all so creative that it’s hard to choose a favorite. All are stamped with Made in Japan.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Camera: Who doesn’t love an instant souvenir photo that fits into a wallet, purse or mini frame? This adorable, compact camera comes in five different soft shades: white, blue, pink, yellow and black. The Instax Mini 8 takes a 10-pack of Instax Mini Film, which comes in such whimsical designs. Choose from patterns such as Shiny Star, Dalmation, Stained Glass or Candy Pop. Decisions, decisions!
Novelty and Character socks: Snoopy, Disney, Moomin, Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob, One Piece, Pokemon, and the list goes on and on. These novelty and character socks are very popular, so you can find them just about anywhere in town. Knee-high, ankle, 5-toe, or even tabi (split toe) socks are a sure hit for all ages. If anything, they’ll at least be worn at home during cold winter nights.
pa Nail Collective: Their slogan says it all, “For the cutie girls who want to become lovely.” pa stands for praise & ambition. This nail collection offers the most charming polish colors, stickers, stones, and decorations for women of all ages into nail art. You can find the pa Nail Collective at most major pharmacies, cosmetic, and novelty shops.
Parasols and Umbrellas: Rain or shine, parasols and umbrellas sure come in handy. In the summer, protect yourself from ultraviolet (UV) rays with a fashionable parasol that offers 90-99% UV protection. During rainy season, you can find umbrellas designed with reappearing flower fabric. When it rains, the blossoms will appear. When it’s dry, the design returns to a solid color. For fun outdoor parties, purchase the Wagasa (和傘), which is a traditional umbrella made of bamboo, oil and Japanese paper.
Washi Paper and Washi Tape: All of the stunning designs to choose from will make you want to stock up. Washi is the Japanese word for the traditional papers made from the long inner fibers of three plants. Wa meaning “Japanese” and shi meaning “paper.” There are many uses for washi paper such as origami, kites, umbrella & fan making, and packaging. Washi tape is used in scrapbooking and other crafting activities and has recently gained much popularity due to its ease of use and colorful, artistic appearance.
Japanese Art iPhone Cases: In Kamakura, you can find a few shops that have iPhone cases designed by independent artists. Or, visit major retail centers like Yodobashi for a vast selection of designs for more than just the iPhone. What is your favorite piece of artwork? The Great Wave of Kanagawa, Dance of Cranes, Mount Fuji, or Cranes and Blossoming Trees?
Nanoblocks: Manufactured by Kawada Co. Ltd, a toy company based in Tokyo, Japan, Nanoblock is a micro-sized building block system with its smallest parts being a mere 4x4x5mm and 80 to 150 pieces per box. Grab a set from the Sights to See series that include world landmarks and notable buildings. A few ideas are Tokyo Tower, Kumamoto Castle, and Tokyo Skytree. Kawaii for grown-ups, too!
Totoro Plush Toys: The ever-so-popular “My Neighbor Totoro” (となりのトトロ Tonari no Totoro) is a 1988 Japanese animated fantasy film, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and produced by Studio Ghibli. Totoro is a large magical creature that is known to the family as the “keeper of the forest” and reveals himself when he wants to. For more information on Studio Ghibli, visit the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. To-to-rohhhh!
Magazines or How-to Guides from a Japanese Bookstore: If you can’t read Japanese, don’t be afraid to enter. There’s so much eye candy in a Japanese bookstore. Usually placed at the entrance of the store are fashion, anime, and manga magazines. Most of the time you’ll even find free giveaways packaged within. Or, head to the self-help section for books about Japan printed in English. Send a few of the quirky How-to guides back home and your friends will be laughing out loud – guaranteed!
Genbei Beach Sandals: Designed in Japan and sold in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture, choose from hundreds of color combinations for just 1,026yen each. Durable, comfortable, and “kawaii!” Your fellow San Diego Chargers football fan is waiting to receive the blue and yellow pair stamped with the Genbei logo. Read more on Genbei Beach Sandal Shop here.
Gifts from Hello Kitty Japan: On November 1, 2014, Hello Kitty will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Visit the Hello Kitty Japan shop in Diver City, Odaiba, to find the perfect commemorative souvenir. Purses, watches, clocks, cookies, lucky charms, and more! During your visit, be sure to enjoy the Hello Kitty hotcakes topped with matcha ice cream.
What are your favorite "Kawaii" souvenirs to keep or send back home? I'd love to hear from you!