5 unbearably precious Japanese gifts that'll fit in your carry-on
Obligatory gift-giving in Japanese culture has resulted in an array of weird gifts and knickknacks. These uniquely Japanese souvenirs are small, but each packs a big cultural punch.
1. Seasonal Kit Kat
In Japan, the brain trust at Kit Kat long ago abandoned boring chocolate in favor of a never-ending lineup of bizarre flavor combinations. The first batch -- matcha (green tea) and waguri (chestnut, pictured above) -- seemed reasonable enough. Later versions, like sakura cherry blossom, green grape muscat and wine, should be regarded as collector's pieces not meant for actual consumption.
When it comes to exciting gifts for gaijin the more outlandish the flavor, the better. Extra points for anyone who manages to export a few packs of Kit Kat Yakimorokoshi -- a grilled-corn variant available only in Hokkaido.
2. Cell phone straps and charms
The cell phone strap has become the go-to way of etching out a unique identity in modern Japan. Little charms dangling off a pink mobile phone can tell us if she's a Snoopy-as-samurai kind of girl or the blue Care Bear type. The variety of adorable character and animal straps in Japan dwarfs anything abroad, creating a perfect opportunity to turn Japan's massive international cuteness imbalance into a gift-giving opportunity.
Cell phone straps and charms are an easy and cheap gift for self-infantilizing young women, but men don't get off the hook so easily. Masculine metallic straps are also available. Remember -- make all final purchase decisions based on the maximum amount of jangle.
To cultures where "candy" means chocolate, caramel, nougat, peanuts and cream miraculously pressed into a single rock of tooth-decaying agents, these chilled gelatinous cubes, or little buns, with a red-bean-paste center can feel like the ultimate exercise in blandness.
Don't be fooled. The value here is purely visual. Artisans craft wagashi with the same care and attention normally given to the cutting of precious stones. Flavor is of limited concern, since the recipient will most likely display the wagashi as home decoration rather than actually partaking.
4. Blood-type bath salts
No longer must we toil under the tyranny of ordinary bath salts! The blood-type-obsessed Japanese have created soothing salts to match every blood type. Type A bath salts, for instance, are said to help overachieving A-types relax. The salts are not available outside of Japan, so canvass friends and family for O's, As', B's, and AB's and buy accordingly.
The stylish and functional furoshiki wrapping cloth is a favorite gift among Japanese. The high-quality textile is the ultimate eco-conscious souvenir: it can be folded into a handbag, handkerchief, baby carrier, gift wrap or shopping bag. The furoshiki can be flat-packed, making it a great last-minute gift idea when nothing else could possibly fit in your suitcase.