Souvenir shopping is often a tiresome affair, given that we would want to purchase gifts that are not only thoughtful, but also useful, for our loved ones. Even if you’re shopping for a keepsake for yourself, the perfect memorable gift can still be hard to find. To save you the hassle, here is a list of traditional Japanese souvenirs to look out for during your next trip to Japan.
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Ukiyo-e (浮世絵; pictures of the floating world) is a Japanese art form that flourished during the Edo period. Artists who dabbled in this style typically produced woodblock prints and paintings of landscapes, people, and flora and fauna.
Image credit: Katsushika Hokusai
Get a ukiyo-e woodblock print that catches your eye, decorate your home with it, and revel in its artistic glory. Alternatively, it could be the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates art and Japanese culture.
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Omamori (お守り) are amulets commonly sold in temples and shrines and they typically offer the owner of the amulet some form of protection or luck.
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The term omamori is derived from mamori (守り; protection), and the amulets usually contain a short religious incantation that can protect the owner from ills, or perhaps grant the owner luck in their romance.
Omamori are especially thoughtful gifts for your loved ones, since you can get one that best suits the receiver’s situation.
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Chopsticks are a popular souvenir choice among tourists, given that Japan has a wide range of beautiful designs to choose from. They are not only aesthetically pleasing, but can also be used daily during meals.
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The more affordable options start at ¥100 (~USD0.77) per pair, and you can get them in shops such as Daiso.
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Daruma dolls, the Japanese version of roly-poly toys, are good luck charms that don’t fall over when they are pushed.
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There is a whole process behind getting a daruma doll and what one should do with it after, as the doll is supposed to help one achieve one’s own goals. When you purchase your doll, keep your goals in mind as you colour in its left eye. When you successfully achieve your goals, you can then colour in its right eye to complete your daruma.
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The daruma doll is thus a popular purchase during the New Year as many have resolutions that they wish to achieve.
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Hanko (判子) or inkan (印鑑) are seals that the Japanese use in place of a signature for official documents, paperwork, and contracts. The print on the stamp will be made up of a part of one’s name, or if space permits, one’s full name.
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This is the perfect gift for your artist friend; many artists in Japan use their own hanko stamp to sign off on their work.
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Translate your name to the katakana form of the Japanese language, then head to a hanko shop, or to Don Quijote for a cheaper alternative, to get your very own personalised hanko stamp.
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Maneki-neko (招き猫; beckoning cat) is the popular Japanese figurine of a cat with one paw up, as if it is beckoning to someone – hence its name.
The adorable figurine is typically associated with luck, as its gesture is said to bring in prosperity for its owner. Depending on which of its paws is raised, the maneki-neko will bring prosperity to the owner in different ways.
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The left paw would bring in customers, which is perfect if you are running a business, while the right paw will bring in money.
There are also maneki-neko that have a mechanical paw that brings the beckoning gesture to life, though whether that increases your luck or is simply a cute detail remains a mystery.
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Kokeshi (こけし) are limbless Japanese wooden dolls that have been crafted for children to play with for over 150 years. Traditionally, they have a simple design in which the artist would simply paint a few thin lines to define their facial features.
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However, nowadays, kokeshi have more elaborate designs, featuring different hairstyles and donning beautiful kimono with a variety of prints.
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You might have seen hina dolls (雛人形; hina ningyou) in the popular anime My Dress-up Darling, where Gojo Wakana – the main protagonist – is shown to have intense passion and admiration for them.
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Hina dolls are traditional Japanese dolls that are typically created for the Hinamatsuri – a festival that celebrates the growth, prosperity, and happiness of young girls. The dolls will then be put on display during the festival for all to see and appreciate their beauty.
It is believed that hina dolls will protect the young girls of their owner’s family by taking on any misfortunes that befall them.
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Furoshiki (風呂敷) are traditional Japanese cloths that are used to wrap and transport goods. Besides being easy on the eyes, they are also an environmentally friendly option as opposed to wrapping paper and plastic bags.
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From wrapping one’s bento (弁当; boxed lunch) to a gift for a friend, a furoshiki has many uses indeed.
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Depending on the way that you tie it, it can even transform into a small bag for you to put your stuff in!
These Japanese souvenirs are not only rich in culture, but also gorgeous-looking. You’ll want to bring one of these perfect memorabilia on your next trip to the land of the rising sun.
Cover image adapted from: Katsushika Hokusai , @fuji.mikotobina , @kinokuniya_portland, @cookie7668
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