You're looking for some special souvenir for a special friend, a traditional one of good quality rather than a maybe somewhat tacky souvenir you find in the usual shops in the touristy areas? The Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square is the place you should go.
It's a kind of a traditional crafts showroom run by The Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, recognized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan, and they exhibit and sell more than 100 different kinds of traditionally crafted products.
Traditional handicrafts made by using local materials and traditional techniques are an important part of the Japanese culture. There is pottery, lacquer and glass ware, wooden crafts, products made from bamboo and kimono textiles from different parts of Japan. Everything is absolutely beautiful but also practical; it's about products that can be used in everyday life. The exhibition changes periodically with the change of the season, so you will find new articles depending on the time of the year.
Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take any close-ups of the individual products; however, I think the pictures below will give you a good idea. Some articles are certainly quite expensive, like kimono for example, but you can also find good quality crafts at a reasonable price.
My favorite were the Suruga Bamboo Crafts from Shizuoka Prefecture. The bamboo was thin and extremely well cut, resulting in very delicate and wonderful things like for example a bowl for sweets, an insect cage or a flower vase. I’m sure you would be quite impressed by the actual production process; the technique of traditional bamboo weaving is over 400 years old. If you buy one of these wonderful bamboo products, please take care when you take it back home, as it might be quite fragile.
There's some good quality lacquer ware from all over Japan, too: Bowls, boxes, spoons etc. As these products are made of wood, they are very light and shiny. I usually prefer to take some lacquer ware as a souvenir when I go abroad, much easier to carry than pottery items.
As a traditional souvenir from Tokyo, Edo Kiriko (Edo cut glass) sake glasses are very unique. It’s a combination between European glass cutting techniques and the Japanese sense of beauty.
Expert craftsmen occasionally come to Aoyama Square to demonstrate their technique in front of the customers. It’s a really great place, for shopping souvenirs or even just watching. So check it out!
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