How to find cool Japanese gifts
Japan, in general, and the Japanese culture, in particular, always seem to be in vogue in one way or another. Certain elements of traditional Japanese society and cuisine were very popular during the ‘80s and ‘90s, anime became prevalent among the internet culture starting with the 2000s, while Japanese literature and cinema is a constant subject of interest for the more artistically inclined. We won’t even begin to count all the popular trends that came from Japan throughout the years.
Of course, what inflames the westerner’s imagination most in recent years are all the cool high tech gadgets that the innovative Japanese seem always keen to deliver. We live in the age of the popular tech device, after all, and technology isn’t something that only nerds partake in anymore.
Since Japan’s cultural influence on the West is so multifaceted, it can be nearly impossible to choose a good gift for a Japan lover with nothing to go on other than his or her interest with the country. People of different ages and education levels admire wholly different aspects of Japanese culture, and often times the categories they define don’t even overlap.
Where Japanese gifts are concerned, you’ll have to pay particularly close attention to the character of the friend you’re buying them for, and that’s why we put this criterion as first one on our list.
How we chose the coolest Japanese gifts
Take the person who you are buying for into account
Popular Japanese culture seems to have established a foothold in the internet in recent years through anime. Essentially Japanese cartoons, which is to say anime, is nothing new, and we doubt there is anybody out there who didn’t watch them as a child or teen. The whole culture associated with it, however, only came about a decade ago.
Western fans of anime are known to attach excessive importance to the Japanese cartoons they watch, and often times extend that passion to other things Japanese.
Since these are generally young men in their 20s, and most anime is directed at teenagers or children, it’s pretty safe to assume that their interests don’t really include the higher aspects of Japanese culture, such as traditional art or literature.
So don’t bother going for anything sophisticated when shopping in this category; either purchase something anime-related, like a plastic figure of a popular character, or stick to weird trinkets or toys. As long as they are from Japan or Japan-related, you’ll be able to get away with spending under a dozen dollars.
Most regular people are particularly interested in items that have a certain Japanese unique quality, mainly through their functionality, or exhibit a particular technical innovation that’s not found in the west.
If you’re shopping for someone with a higher brow, consider going for an item that bears some connection to Japanese traditional culture (you know, sushi, rolled up paintings, origami and that sort of stuff).
The Japanese weirdness factor
Japanese weirdness is somewhat of a common trope, and so we find many of their habits hard to comprehend and a lot less so the clips that make it to youtube from their TV shows. You can say this is one of the things we find both strange and endearing about Japan.
If you’re going to buy an item that’s somewhat connected with the country, make sure it has that little tint of weirdness we’ve paradoxically come to expect. Your choices on the matter range pretty wide, from something like a catalog displaying the 1000+ flavors of kit-kat to a hug pillow that comes with its own rubber arm.
These products are sure to cause chuckles for the friends with an interest in Japan and don’t even have to detract from the item’s functionality. After all, we can enjoy 1000+ flavors of chocolate covered wafers just as well as any people on Earth.
Besides all the high tech gadgets that the technology enthusiast might be inclined towards, Japan also produces a high variety of regular day to day items with applications that we might not even have thought of. After all, they have slightly different needs and demands than the American public and tend to hold different things as important.
The best Japanese gift reviews tend to praise items whose utility is very much relatable with our needs, yet for some reason aren’t already widely available for sale on the American continent. Would you like, for example, a robot arm to support your head while you type? Or a gadget that converts the tunes on a magnetic cassette to MP3?
Many of us would, but apparently not enough to create the type of customer demand that would make these items common in the United States. Considering this aspect, a Japanese gift might be a good opportunity to help your friend address a somewhat specific need that he or she might have, but for whom the domestic market doesn’t provide.
If you’re buying for a person who you don’t know very well, you could go for something with near universal applicability, but not that much in the way of usefulness. Something like a rice cookie making machine, which promises to shave off as many as ten minutes of the entire cooking time, once in a blue moon when the average American is baking rice cookies.
Don’t forget about culture and history
After all, Japan is very much a nation, not just some workshop that churns out slightly odd consumer goods of narrow utility. If the case is that you’re buying for someone who has an interest in the actual country, it would be a good idea to take its history and culture into account.
The coolest gifts from Japan should somewhat reflect the place’s character and past, but they don’t have to be tourist trinkets or wall hangers either. If your friends are hipsters, they might be impressed with traditional cooking ware, cutlery, or even toys, which can make good children and baby gifts.
There are still some companies who make traditional Japanese everyday items and they might be worth checking out.