You’ve done it again, haven’t you? Here you are, living the high life in Tokyo, and a sudden realization stops you dead in your tracks. Christmas is coming, and you haven’t even started shopping for your friends and family back home.
Worse, they know where you live. They’re expecting something a little extra. Something cultural, strange, or having that unique Japanese whimsy. Nothing too far out there, but something they can show their friends and have a “wow, neato!” thing to talk about.
You, however, do not want to go broke while not ruining the holidays. But where do you go? What do you get? And once you get it, how do you get it to your giftee? Never fear, I am here to help! There are plenty of gift-giving options that won’t make your wallet beg for mercy.
Toe Socks: I don’t really get these, but the women I know love them. They are exactly what the name implies: socks with individual spaces for your toes. The come in all kinds of colors and designs, so customize for that lady in your life. ¥500-¥1000 a pair, depending on how fancy you get.
Gundam Army Men: Remember the little green army men? If you’re my age, you remember playing with them; if younger, you’ll remember them from “Toy Story.” Well, a company called Happinet makes army men in Gundam and Zaku shapes. Are they for kids? Maybe, but I’m in my 30s and I’m still PEW PEW PEWing with the ones I bought. ¥600 for a pack of eight figures.
Robot Fishtank: Giving a pet as a gift is a double-edged sword. Dogs are a lot of work. Cats only think of humans as litterbox-cleaners and a food delivery systems. And fish? Well, fish are easy, but they still have to be fed. Unless you get a robot fish, in which case you only have to change the battery once it runs down. Robot fish come in multiple colors, shapes, and styles. Some even do tricks! If your intended giftee doesn’t already have a tank (putting Terminator Fish in the same tank as normal fish is not recommended), you can get him or her a racetrack-style tank so they can watch the next phase of piscine evolution do laps. “Yes, everybody in Japan has a robot for a pet,” they’ll say to their friends. ¥400-¥1000 for a fish (depending on style), ¥1000 for the tank.
With numerous locations all over Japan, Tokyu Hands is a great place to find higher-end Japanese goods (see the Tokyo locations at http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/en/list/kanto.html). They aren’t as wacky as Don Quijote, but they still have an interesting selection of Japan-specific items.
Christmas Cards: I saw Santa at the sumo basho. I saw a number of them forming a human pyramid to give gifts to the Buddha at Kamakura. Still others were taking in the sights at the Kaminari Gate in Asakusa. For Christmas cards with that uniquely Japanese feel, it’s hard to do better than the selection at Tokyu Hands. And at ¥200 per card, they won’t bust your budget.
Canned Luxury Foods: Just because your friends are out camping doesn’t mean that their culinary tastes should slide into a similarly primitive state. What are they going to do, eat burned meat? Like savages? Pshaw. With this fine selection of luxury canned foods, one only needs to pop the lid on a can of Bo-LóGne brand kurumi danish (or similar canned product) and eat like a sir until one returns to civilization. ¥400 and up.
Stationery: Tokyu Hands has a vast selection of stationery and writing implements to choose from. Everyone loves the feel of a good pen, and there are numerous Japan-themed diaries, notebooks, journals, etc. to choose from. ¥400 and up, and leave the Japanese sticker on it so they can tell everybody where it came from.
TOKYO STATION FIRST AVENUE AND DAIMARU
At the Yaesu Exit, you will find stairs leading down to the Tokyo Station First Avenue, right on “Character Street.” Here you can visit shops devoted to various characters that have appeared in anime or on Japanese TV. The NHK Store covers souvenirs based on Domo-Kun and other children’s shows, while the Jump Shop across the hall is for fans of “Naruto”, “Bleach”, “Dragonball”, and the like. Long-time characters like Snoopy, Ultraman, and Hello Kitty have their own shops.
If toys are what your intended giftee is interested in, First Avenue also features a Lego ClickBrick store and a Tomica shop. Past these are stores dedicated to the addictions of two different generations–a Pokémon store for the youngsters and a Tamagotchi store for us older kids. The Tamagotchi store even has a little museum up front, so you can see with your own eyes the little electronic devices people distracted themselves with before cell phones came along.
Walking through the First Avenue will eventually land you at the Daimaru. Here, you can find the Kit Kat Chocolatory and pick up the gift of a familiar candy in strange flavors (¥430 and up). Right next to the Chocolatory is a candy station called Pappa Bubble, specializing in candy canes of various flavors (¥500 and up). If those don’t excite you, there is a large food market nearby where you can purchase all manner of sweets already boxed and ready for gift-giving (price varies).
English map and floor guide at http://www.tokyoeki-1bangai.co.jp/pdf/floorMap_foreign.pdf .
DAISO SURPRISE BOX
Do you have a family to buy for? Short on funds? Here’s a fun thing to do.
Go to the local Daiso or 100 Yen store. These aren’t like the dollar stores back home–the low-cost shops in Japan have some amazing stuff. Get a basket and fill it up with things you can’t find in your home country. Go to the food section and get things that have no English labels–canned whale meat, chip bags with scary-faced peppers on the package. Canned coffee and other strange-looking drinks. Sour plum candy. My family had a great time trying to guess what was in each package or drink before trying them, often with hilarious results.
Also, add a few of the interesting doodads that you find on the other shelves. The red-and-green study ruler (along with an explanation of how it works) is great for students. Magnetic or peel-and-stick whiteboards are useful to anyone. And the ramen bowls are fantastic gifts–they look great, and there’s no reason anyone needs to know you only paid 100 yen for them.
Daiso and 100-yen stores are everywhere. If you’re not sure where to find one, the Japanese National Tourism Organization has a handy guide to finding these stores around the Yamanote line stops at http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/travel/practical/100yen.html. If your relatives decide they like what you got them, they can shop online at http://www.daisojapan.com to get more.
GETTING IT IN THE MAIL WITH JAPAN POST
So now you have the perfect gifts. But how do you get them to their intended recipients back home?
Japanese post offices are almost as ubiquitous as police kobans. They are easily recognized by their orange color scheme and “T” symbol. Before you go to your local yūbinkyoku, you can check the shipping rates and the estimated time for delivery by entering the relevant information about your package, postcard, or greeting card in their calculator at http://www.post.japanpost.jp/cgi-charge/index.php?lang=_en. To mail packages overseas, you will also need to fill out customs forms and International Parcel Labels; if you are unsure how to do this, Japan Post has a handy English guide at http://www.post.japanpost.jp/int/use/index_en.html.
Japan Post is closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, so plan your trip accordingly.
So now you have your presents and your greeting cards, and now you know how to navigate the post office. Time is getting short, so get your Christmas cheer jammed in the mailbox soon before it’s too late!