Everyone who visits Japan leaves a little piece of their heart in the country. And who can blame them? The pink flurries of sakura in the spring, the chirping of the cicada in summer, the bright foliage of fall, and the snow-crested temples in the winter. No matter what time of year you visit, the memories you make will last a lifetime and will have you pining to come back.
While we must continuously look forward to our next trip to Japan, handcrafted artisan goods from Japan remind us of what we love and why we keep going back. What better way to build a bridge between your home and the land of the rising sun than by giving the Japan-lover in your life something special that embodies one of the many reasons that we love Japan?
The Culture of Gift-Giving in Japan
Here in Japan, gift-giving is a huge part of the culture, and it is taken very seriously. A good gift will demonstrate to the person you give it to just how much you thought about them in order to choose something perfect.
Appearance is another important factor, and when you buy something from a Japanese store, they’ll often ask if you want it wrapped as a gift because just throwing it in a bag or giving it as-is is deemed culturally unacceptable. Take gift fruit, for example. As you parol a Japanese supermarket, you might see eloquently packaged “gift fruit” that goes for seemingly outrageous prices, such as several thousand yen for a single apple! This fruit, however, was carefully selected, not just for its taste but also because of its perfect shape and for the exquisite packaging that expresses true gratitude.
In Japan, you may even find yourself in an endless back and forth of gift-giving as we have a tradition of reciprocation here. When someone gives you a gift, the next time you see them, you feel obligated to give them a gift to thank them for your gift. The next time they see you, they’ll thank you for your gift with another gift, and thus, the cycle perpetuates. You might even find yourself giving and receiving gifts on the regular for reasons you can no longer remember!
Recommended Japanese Gifts
In Japan, gifts mean something. A gift is a physical expression of your appreciation for someone and demonstrates just how much you thought about the recipient's wants, needs, and lifestyle, which is why not just anything will do. Something with a story, something made by the hands of an artisan with techniques that have been passed down through the generations. These are the types of gifts that have an impact and express what is in our hearts. These are the types of gifts that connect us to Japan.
Japan is adored worldwide for its fashion, both modern and traditional. Everything from the wild, trendy styles of Harajuku to the traditional robes of Kyoto is iconic and makes the perfect gift for someone who not just loves Japan but someone who wants to show the world what Japan means to them.
1. "Aizome" Indigo-dyed T-shirt
Japanese Aizome is a time-honored craft that combines the careful skill of the dye artisans with the innate natural beauty of Japanese indigo. An indigo-dyed shirt from Miyagi Prefecture is the perfect gift for someone with a refined taste in fashion who is looking to stand out without being flashy. The Aizome shirts are odor resistant, heat retention, and UV protection, which makes them not just fashionable but functional as well.
2. Handmade Leather Slippers
Since Japanese don't wear shoes in the house, slippers can be found in almost every household in Japanese. A good pair of slippers should be comfortable to stand in for prolonged periods such as when cooking, and should also ideally be easy to clean. These handmade leather slippers from Ehime-based maker Yamato are the cream of the crop, with ultra-comfortable soles and clean, simple appearance that can fit nicely into the style of any house.
3. Kyo Yuzen Dyed Linen Stole
Add a pop of color to your wardrobe with this vibrant stole from NOGIGUCHI KIHEI. Made with the Kyo Yuzen dying technique from Kyoto that involves the hand painting of ink into the fabric using a brush, the lightweight fabric grows softer with time and will become the envy of all your peers. The linen is wrinkle-free and is quick-drying and so even in the summer, you’ll stay cool.
4. Arigato Silver Necklace
What says thank you, more than the word “Thank you?” Calligrapher Saori Kunihiro's brush strokes for the word ありがとう (arigato) are transformed and beautifully cast in silver for this unique necklace. A tangible expression of our gratitude, this stylish accessory is a constant reminder of those we give thanks to in our lives and what we have to feel grateful for.
5. Imabari Bath Towel & Face Towel
Imabari is a town by the Seto Inland Sea. Basked in sunshine and the salty sea breeze that carries the echo of laughter down the coastal planes, Imabari is a place full of warmth and solace. Give that same feeling of joy and relaxation to someone in your life with this towel set made from the very finest cotton processed into incredibly soft and highly absorbent towels using Imabari's famously pure spring water. See what gives Imabari towels their world-renowned reputation.
6. Nishijin Textiles Handbag
This chic handbag from Kyoto pays homage to the celebrated marriage of chocolate and mint, a flavor combination that never fails to intrigue the senses. Usable as either a shoulder bag or a clutch, the modern design of the bag exudes a trendy design but features traditional Nishijin Ori fabric that was used for traditional garments for centuries.
Japanese Sake Sets
Sake is what gives Japan a spark. Shared between colleagues, loved ones, or even strangers at an izakaya, sake is a reflection of the local flavors of your travels. Why not remind someone of the vibrant nights out you shared in Japan with one of these sake sets? Or perhaps, prepare for memories to come after you bring back a bottle from your next trip?
7. Naniwa Pewter Ware Sake Bottle & Cup Set
Many unforgettable nights out in Osaka start with a chilled bottle of sake in a crowded local izakaya. This sake set from the kitchen of Japan sparkles with the same shine as those cherished nights out and will bring back nostalgia you never knew you had. Made from a rust-resistant tin that naturally mellows the flavor of the sake poured into it, this sake set has heat-retaining properties that keep your sake cooler or warmer, depending on how you like to drink your sake.
8. Mino Ware Ceramic Sake Bottle & Cup Set
A Sake set reminiscent of a white sandy beach. Brought to you by MARUMO TAKAGI in Gifu Prefecture, this eloquent porcelain set will transport you away to a coastal oasis where your stress is a thing of the past, and the lapping waves of the sea are the tempo to which you raise your glass (or ochoko) and toast “kanpai!”
9. Kagami Crystal Edo Kiriko Sake Bottle & Cup Set
Bring a little luxury into your life with this opulent crystal sake set painstakingly made by hand by the renowned craftsman Junichi Nabetani. Laced with a gorgeous chrysanthemum design, when light passes through, a burst of color will light up the room, making every drink a celebration.
Itadakimasu! For many, the best part of their trip to Japan is the food and the rich culinary mastery that Japanese chefs continue to bestow upon the hungry foodie. Transform your own home into a Japanese restaurant with these carefully selected handmade pieces that will make your table the envy of every social gathering.
10. Imari-Arita Ware Small Dish Set
Despite its natural beauty, very few overseas visitors set foot in Saga Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, making it a rather hidden gem. Just as Saga is still waiting to be unearthed, this set of five plates is a hidden treasure, glazed in a rare gosu pigment that was introduced to Japan in the early Edo Period. Great for appetizers or side dishes, these dishes will make your table pop for sure!
11. Shigaraki Ware Earthenware Pot
Donabe have been used in Japan since ancient times, and Shigaraki is famed for being one of the finest centers of earthenware production in all of Japan. Great as a wedding or housewarming gift, these donabe are perfect for making traditional Japanese dishes such as nabeyaki udon or steamed fish. The pot itself is not too large, so you can save time on cleaning dishes by serving your culinary delicacy just as is!
12. Kyoto-Kiyomizu Ware Bowl
Who doesn’t love a good bowl of soba, udon, or ramen? This beautiful bowl from Kyoto is perfect for serving your very own slurp-worthy noodles and sharing homemade meals. The red Hibiki pattern featured shows off a delicate, cracked pattern glaze that brings out the colors of your cooking, making it a feast for not just the stomach but for the eyes as well.
13. Hand Forged Damascus Santoku Knife
Chefs around the world covet Japanese knives for their sharpness and precision, possible thanks to the highly developed skills of knife makers cultivated over centuries going back to the time when katana were produced and used regularly. This forged Damascus santoku knife is made in Osaka prefecture's town of Sakai, one of Japan's most storied knife-producing regions. The 31 layers of steel are visible all the way up the face of the blade and polished to a beautiful sheen. Its simple yet elegant design means it is sure to become an heirloom.
14. Wajima Lacquer Hand-Carved Chopsticks
Chopsticks are a quintessential part of the Japanese dining experience and can change the mood of a meal from simple to elegant. These hand-carved chopsticks from Ishikawa Prefecture feature the chinkin technique that uses a chisel to carve out a delicate pattern that is then leafed over with gold foil to create something that is truly beautiful. This set features the image of dragonflies humming around a bed of river reeds that will invoke memories of summer days alongside the Kyoto riverbed.
15. Echizen Lacquerware Thermo Mug
A fun fashion of new and old, this tumbler is laid with traditional Echizen Shikki lacquerware and is great for bringing your matcha late on the go! Echizen Shikki is an ancient technique that comes from Fukui and is often used at weddings or celebratory events. Even with changing styles and trends among the people, the craft has evolved and changed to find its own place in the modern world with fun products like this thermo mug.
Japanese Furniture and Home Decor
16. Edo Daruma Doll
What is your greatest wish? In Japan, when you make a wish, you fill in the eye of a daruma, and when it comes true, you fill in the other! Maybe your wish is to revisit Japan one day with the person you give this daruma, made using the Edo Kimekomi technique, to? Or perhaps your wish is simply that they have a happy and healthy life. Either way, these cute daruma are a fun take on the traditional doll and are the perfect conversation piece for any living room.
17. Akita Cedar Latticework Umbrella Stand
Creating a relaxing space by inviting a Japanese aesthetic into your home reminds us of the tranquil serenity that flows throughout Japan. This simple lattice umbrella stand may seem like a minimal addition to the home, but the light wood and delicate craftsmanship of the stand welcome you as you come and go each day, reminds us of the simple luxuries of life, and is a wonderful gift for someone who could use an extra dose of sunshine amongst the storm.
18. Onigawara Wind Chimes
In Japan, when we hear winchimes, we think of summer. Onigawara (devil's tiles) are said to have been watching over people from the roofs of houses since ancient times and offer protection for those in need. Despite their fierce demeanor, these hand-finished iron crafts ring with a soothing, gentle touch that, while faint, brings you back to Japan on a summer day.
19. Natural Tatami Yoga Mat
Yoga is one way we can center ourselves and align the body and mind, just as we would in a Japanese temple or Zen garden. These natural tatami yoga mats are made by dyeing natural rush before carefully weaving them together to invoke vibrant images of Mt. Fuji. Become one with nature, and use them outdoors as they are easy to clean, non-slip, and odor-resistant for a hassle-free yoga experience. They can even be used as a decorative rug as well to liven up a dull room with some Japanese flair.
20. Low Tatami Seat with Back Support
Completely transform your dining experience with these low tatami seats all the way from Niigata. Many Japanese homes and restaurants feature this type of low seating, and it is particularly good for homes with elderly residents or with young children. The vinyl leather is easy to clean, and when you are not using them, they are easy to stack and keep out of your way. Excellent craftsmanship will keep these chairs in your home for many years to come, so they are more than just a gift but a future investment.
A reason to gift
When we travel to Japan, we are often reminded of those who we love and feel a burning desire to share the world we love with them. As we travel across Japan, we are overcome with a sense of gratitude for the people in our life that make each and every day so special and inspire us to go out and see the world.