Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2004
It has been written that water separates the world and alcohol brings it together. A selection of local libations will certainly put the wa in your wassailing.
John Gauntner books
These books, by the unchallenged non-Japanese authority on all things sake introduce and explain all there is to know about Japan’s national beverage. They’re perfect for those with a definite interest in sake or the simply curious. (¥1,300)
Sales of sho-chu have skyrocketed past traditional sake, according to the Japan Economic Investment Bank. It’s now the drink of choice among the hip and trendy in Japan. Selections like sweet potato-based Kai (¥1,400) and barley-based Tsuki no Megami (¥2,500) from the Sho-Chu Authority in Shiodome make a great introduction to the world of sho-chu.
There are a number of new books on Japan available this year. Here are some note-worthy titles to be found at major bookstores throughout the city.
The Hidden Gardens of Kyoto
Photographer Katsuhiko Mizuno glimpses at several private and otherwise inaccessible gardens of Kyoto. With over 100 photographs and illustrations this book is excellent coffee table fare. (¥4,800)
Tokyo City Atlas: A Bilingual Guide
Where am I? What train do I take? Can you fax me a map? Stop wasting your cell phone minutes discussing transportation. This bilingual atlas from Kodansha is the essential resource for navigating the mega-tropolis. (¥2,205)
Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics
This lavishly illustrated volume offers an extensive history of one of Japan’s most ubiquitous art forms. The book explores the varied and occasionally disturbing history of manga’s growth into a global phenomenon. (¥2,367)
Tokyo’s numerous design shops and museum gift shops are great places to find gifts to satisfy even the most difficult person on your list.
Yayoi Kusama Dishware
Although traditional Japanese prints are a fine idea for art lovers seeking a piece of Japanese culture, these plates featuring the unmistakable designs of current art diva Yayoi Kusama will please those on your list with more contemporary tastes (¥12,600 at the Hara Museum Shop).
D-Bros. Designer Calendars
These works from Japanese design group D-Bros will make even the tired gift of a calendar exciting again. Elaborately considered, utilizing exquisite papers, they are both a practical present and a refined work of art for your walls throughout the year. (¥3,600-4,000 at the Hara Museum Shop)
Forget Rudolph and Frosty and welcome Japan’s legions of cute to your holidays.
Mouse ears may satisfy some, but the really hip need the pointed hair design of the Astroboy cap. Or if your love for Astroboy is of a more subtle style, then consider sporting one of the many ties featuring the mighty boy robot’s silhouette. (Cap ¥2,079, neckties ¥4,095-¥5,145 at Osamu Tesuka World)
Hello Kitty may be Japan’s preeminent character icon, but Aokubi Daikon is a vegetable not to be ignored. This smiling white radish has numerous merchandise incarnations. (Stuffed doll ¥3,675 at Kiddyland)
The peak of originality is the craft. These items are one-of-a-kind presents from local artisans.
Tamaya Design Bags
The obi is the ornate sash that wraps around and completes the kimono. But many of these beautiful sashes end up tucked away in closets. Tamaya Design takes those forgotten textiles and refashions them into exquisite handbags, jackets, and accessories making an object of history and tradition to highlight any wardrobe. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
Warm Studio apparel
Inspired by traditional Shinto and Buddhist clothing, these original winter hats are both stylish and practical. Available in a varied range of colors and materials such as yarns, silks, and cottons. Each hat, scarf, or accessory is custom made to your wishes. (Prices begin at ¥3,000. Contact email@example.com for more information.)
You’ve checked your list twice and you still don’t know what to get this person. It may be time to indulge something slightly less serious.
Kanji-covered t-shirts, baseball caps, and other clothing are hot overseas. With that in mind, these t-shirts emblazoned with monikers like “Looking for a Japanese Girlfriend” and “Baka Gaijin” will satisfy your Kanji loving friends and offer a chuckle for those in the know. ($15.95 available at JBOX.com)
Margaret Josefin’s Breath Palette Toothpaste
You have come across all kinds of new flavors in Japan, but your suitcase can’t carry those great items home with you for the holidays. No problem. Margaret Josefin’s Breath Palette series of designer toothpastes offer all your favorite flavors like green tea, umeboshi, and Indian curry in a convenient squeeze tube (¥210 per tube).
Essential Candy Set
Face it, your parents and friends back home will never be convinced that azuki beans and warabimochi sweets really are as great as you think they are. Instead, wow them with the not entirely familiar flavors and colorful packaging of Japanese junk food. Our list of favorites includes:
Matcha Kit Kat(¥120)
Baby Star Ramen(¥29)
Pocky Decorer (¥198)
Men’s Pocky (¥198)
Kinoko No Yama Chocolates (¥198)
For the kids?
What would the holidays be without toys? Here are some essential gifts for the kids.
Sound Door Kaihei Yamanote Line Set
This toy set has almost everything one could ask for in a model of Tokyo’s most famous train line: flashing lights, sounds, and other realistic details. The only thing missing is the 9am commuter crush. (¥6,279 at Kiddyland)
Muji Wooden Family Dolls
A minimalist response to Barbie and her cronies, these bare-wood dolls are a blank canvas for the imaginations of children and quirky artsy types. (¥580)
Muji Wooden Blocks
Give the kids a head start learning Japanese for a future global career, or work on your own kana skills. Either way, these colorful wooden blocks are of typically high Muji quality. (¥5,145)
Major League Baseball has captured the heart of many a Japanese fan, but Japan’s own team mascots and catchy designs are mostly unknown in the US and will definitely stand out on the field. (¥2,100-¥2,800 at Gallery 2)