We have long ago run out of those “standard” Japanese gifts that we can get away with sending out relatives back home. You know the ones, right? Green tea. Chopsticks. Sake cups. And so on. What happens when you run out of ideas?
Well, if you look around, though, there are loads of cool gadgets, designer accessories, toys and household items that will make great and unexpected gifts.
The follow is just a very small sampling of the range of lifestyle and tech products available from the JapanTrendShop.
Learning can be fun and awe-inspiring, as Gakken is well aware. That’s why they created this remarkable Worldeye, a dome screen that offers you a realistic visual experience of the world. Discover science and geography like you never knew you could with this projection globe, featuring high quality images of world altitudes, seismic faults, forestation, bird migration, wind patterns and more.
Be smelly no more with these Deoest Odor Eliminating Deodorant Underwear, which has been designed to kill some 95% of gas and sweat and other foul odors. It might look like an ordinary pair of boxers but the Deoest Odor Eliminating Deodorant Underwear by Inodore has nano-level ceramic and metallic ions that fight and break down stinky particles. A life-saver!
This has been around for a few years now but it still looks great, and super practical too! Product designer Masayuki Kurakata knows how important it is to consider even something so banal as an extension lead, and that’s why he came up with the Plugo by Monos, a donut-shaped three-plug receptacle and extension lead.
This “microfiber hop ball” is one of the funnest in the recent trend for robotic vacuum cleaners in Japan. The Mocoro might sound like a bizarre but sophisticated piece of technology — a colorful “fur” ball that rolls automatically around home cleaning — but actually its beauty lies in its simplicity. All you need to do is clean the furry cover and then let the ball do the rest!
Not for Christmas per se, but you can celebrate New Year in a unique way with this. The Japanese send each other New Year postcards rather than Xmas cars. These are called nengajo and can be rather generic, though a lot of people write or even paint their own. Now you can be really unusual with this Nanoblock 2014 Nengajo Horse New Year Card, that uses the popular micro blocks to build a horse and bird model. (2014 is the Year of the Horse in Japan.)
This is for the gadget-lovers out there. This Hybrid Hard iPhone5 Protective Film is getting great reviews locally. Smashed screen? Scratched display? These will be problems no longer with this Hybrid Hard iPhone5 Protective Film. The Hybrid Hard is easy to apply and keep clean, and is made from Acier, a UV cure type hard coating solvent, combined with a transparent SHORAYAL film. Highly resistant to abrasion and shocks, it also protects against pesky fingerprints.
Another gadget, this time from Thanko, who know a thing or two about unusual gizmos. Keep yourself powered up for work whether it’s winter (or summer) with the USB Cup Warmer, Cooler Holder. Just connect your computer or other device’s USB port to the cup holder and it will maintain a cool or hot temperature perfect for continuing to enjoy your drink no matter how long that presentation takes you to finish. After all, when it’s winter and you’re keeping yourself warm with a hot cup of tea, the last thing you want is it to cool down. And likewise, in the summer, you want a drink that stays chilled.
For lovers (young and old) of kawaii and Japan’s favorite cat character, this Pop Up Pirate Hello Kitty is based on the 1975 Pop-up Pirate toy where you have to place swords in the barrel until the pirate jumps up. This time the buccaneer is super cute, as Kitty-chan always is!
Heck, if this isn’t enough for you, check out all the other Hello Kitty items there are!
It used to be that Gashapon capsule toys were ostensibly just for kids who wanted to collect and play with small toy items and character figures from their favorite anime, games and comic book series. Of course, there was always another group of geeky adult collectors, too, who had a little bit more freedom to use as much as money they wanted to spend on Gashapon, in pursuit of finding the rarest character. But now Gashapon are for everyone, even office workers.
Gashapon are sold in small plastic capsules that you buy from special “crank” vending machines, usually to be found in rows around certain kinds of stores, especially electronics stores. The world of Gashapon, as with many other toy products, has certainly evolved from having its sales rely in large part on already popular entities in the market to finding and promoting its own original toys.
Two series from Kitan Club, Dogeza Straps and Fuchiko on Cups have gained popularity among office workers for obvious reasons. While Dogeza Straps show the resilient spirit of salarymen posing in the ultimate physical position for begging called dogeza (pay close attention to his face too!), Fuchiko is dressed up in the typical office uniform worn by many female workers, especially those who work as receptionists and secretaries at giant corporations.
Kitan Club has released several different versions of Fuchiko, but this is their first series. There is a distinctly moe flavor to Fuchiko, wouldn’t you say?
Bandai’s smartpants might be the last thing you’d want for your phone, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have another one or two sets of underwear in the closet, right?
This past summer, they released a Mt. Fuji version, which nicely coincided with Japan’s tallest peak being awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
From Bandai, there is one more we just can’t overlook. It’s a key chain that lets you openly pick the nose in public. The series title might be too obvious but is well marketed: Hojirerun-desu – or “You can pick this nose.”
Just remember. The point of these capsule toys is not to ask about the point. It’s not only the product that you purchase with 200 yen — but the thrill that comes from the act of turning the crank of the vending machine, knowing that inside the capsule might just be that extra special toy in the series you have spent months looking for… or just another copy of the same figure you already have in your bulging collection.
The Japanese language is a creative thing, not least due to its multiple scripts — kanji ideographs, and the syllabaries hiragana and katakana, plus there is distinctly Japanese use of the Roman alphabet. All of this means the language is a dream for copywriters churning out phrases for advertising and is one of the reasons why posters and ads — especially those inside trains — feature so much text.
Kanji and kana are visually complex, making them hard to learn in some ways but also a bountiful source of fun. Kids can also get a lot from playing around with scripts while at the same time learning.
One of the most famous is the Henohenomoheji “face” you can make with seven hiragana characters.
Now comes this Mojibakeru Kana, a series of animal shape toys that you can put together to form kana letters — and vice versa. The name comes from mojibake, which is the local word for garbled text, like when a computer file goes wrong and all you can see are lines of gobbledygook.
There are Bird, Monkey, Snake, Squirrel or Elephant versions. The separate kana shapes both spell out the animal’s name in Japanese, and then can be combined to make a typographical version of the creature.
If drinks and manga are more your thing, then you make ice or chocolates in the shape of katakana comic book “sound effects” with the Manga Kori Comic Ice.
Finally, another one we also like that also uses sound effects is the Onomatopoeia Sound Karuta Card Speaker Game, which mixes audio with cards while testing your listening skills and vocabulary.
The “dealer” slots a card into the back of the included speaker, which then belts out the word, which is a sound effect you can find in manga. Grab the right corresponding card from the deck in front of the players to score a point! There are actually several games you can play, depending on the number of players, including quizzes to see who can make regular words by connecting different onomatopoeia sounds that the speaker barks out.
These kinds of toys are also great for anyone studying Japanese or who loves the language.
After years of campaigning, Mt Fuji, Japan’s highest peak and an ingenious piece of natural symmetry, was recently finally elevated to that status that perhaps of all people the Japanese seem to be obsessed with — UNESCO World Heritage.
This has led to a flurry of media excitement as well as lots of tie-in merchandise, plus some beard-stroking from pundits about how to preserve what is essentially a sacred mountain but is “climbed” (more like strolled up) by hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.
Well, you could also just put that all aside and get your hands on some Mt Fuji Smart Pants.
Unless you are a micro person you might have some serious trouble fitting into these, but nonetheless your mobile wardrobe is now complete with Bandai’s summer line-up of Gashapon toy capsules, which includes this remarkable — profane? — mini upside-down Mt Fuji.
You clip it onto the top of your smartphone (hence the “smart” in “smart pants”) and then you have Japan’s most famous mountain as a kind of phone bandana-cum-underwear.
There are eight versions, all in the
Mt Fuji — sorry, pants shape, but with colors varying from stripes to dots to even rather menacing pink “spikes”.
The series — actually Bandai’s second like this — go on sale at Gashapon capsule vending machines in late July.
For a country with a declining birthrate (and by extension, the population as a whole), Japan’s toy manufacturers are not showing any signs of giving up.
Granted it hasn’t been plain sailing for Takara Tomy, which was formed from the merger of two troubled toy-makers, but every year they continue to release fun and inventive products.
Now comes this Chupa Chups Ice Candy Maker, which combines the Japanese love for creative cuisine and their innate silliness (don’t let the austerity of some of the classical arts fool you!).
The subtitle for the product is “okashina”, which is a pun, since it can be mean “strange” or “sweets”. And that’s about right: you can create all manner of bizarre but sugary delights with this candy maker.
Just stick your Chupa Chups lollipop (or similar lollipop) into the Ice Candy Maker and use the funnel to add a warm flavored liquid (examples include juices, cola, milk, melted chocolate, cocoa etc).
Then rotate using the handle and the candy will melt off your lollipop in a few minutes, spinning and making a ginormous blob of sweetness. The last thing to do is store it overnight in the fridge and be patient. The next day you will you very own customized ice treat.
With its emphasis on “spinning” fun and making your own customized summer treats, the Chupa Chups Ice Candy Maker also reminds us of Takara Tomy’s hit from last year, the Gurefure Chuchu.
A long time ago, long before we had augmented reality toys or flying gadgets that interacted with your smartphone — long before even anime had really got going and brought with it the toppling mountain of tie-up merchandise… there were other ways to keep kids amused.
Japanese children in the years after the war had tin toys to entertain themselves with, not least of which the beloved ones made by Horikawa.
Most famously Horikawa made tin robots, such as the iconic Star Strider.
Readers who reside in Japan may have seen these kinds of toys in stores that stock unconventional or deliberately off-beat products, like Village Vanguard. You may have wondered what ancient anime they were spin-offs from. Actually, these robots are stand-alone delights and we love how they move!
Horikawa made loads of these kinds of tin (buriki) toys. Sadly, the times were a-changing.
The company went out of business in the Eighties but its heritage was taken up by Metal House, another company and originally a Horikawa sub-contractor, who have been doing their best ever since to keep manufacturing tin toys for new generations.
It’s a tough racket, given that even mega-hitters like Takara Tomy have struggled over the years (hence why “Takara” and “Tomy” joined together) and a cynic might carp that it is all in vain, given the nation’s declining birth rate.
Well, Star Strider robots are still around and frankly, we think these moving, buzzing, flashing ‘bots, while not quite in the realms of the Robi or Honda ASIMO, are nevertheless pretty cool — cool enough that adults, especially the hipster retro-lovin’ variety, would also definitely like them.
Every now and then you come across an idea so neat that you wish the whole world knew about it. And in this case, I also wish I was six years old ago and could experience the joy of playing with this, Nocilis.
The name comes from “silicon” backwards and the objects are special shape-changing rubber toys. Children can play with them, making new shapes or creatures out of a single Nocilis, or combining several to build a colorful customized piece of kiddy architecture!
A square be turned inside out to make a butterfly, a triangle can become a tree, a heart into a leaf. And so on. Cute and clever, you can’t ask for more!
This kind of play encourages creative-thinking, tactile learning and is also guaranteed to keep them quiet and happy for a while at least. It’s not hard to see why Nocilis has already proved an award-winner.
The makers also think that Nocilis are super safe too, even if swallowed, and can be cleaned and sterilized easily.
I actually first came across the toys a few years ago, back when they were still a prototype, but now they are on sale in Japan and can be purchased internationally via the JapanTrendShop.
With toys as innovative as this, it’s criminal that Japan is a country with a declining birthrate.
Remote control or radio control toys are big the world over.
As well as the usual planes, choppers, UFOs and flying “space balls”, though, Japan’s toy makers have given us some more… well, let’s just say more unusual offerings.
Here’s a little selection!
Yes, Japanese summers are roach fests but with these toys you can make the bugs a year-round attraction.
JTT’s latest RC toy is actually this incredible RC Centipede. There are two “species”, both as creep and crawly as each other. Urgh!
Every Japanese home or office I’ve ever been into has had a tissue box. They are a staple of any domestic or working environment, much like a coaster or cutlery.
But did you know that a tissue box could be driven around like a car? No, neither did we till we found this RC tissue box toy. In fact, it’s more like a tray that can fit a tissue box — so there’s also nothing to stop you experimenting a bit with this. Drinks?
And tissue boxes aren’t the only inanimate object that can be zipped around the home. Check out the RC Trolley Cart, though in this case, it’s at least already a kind of transport to start with — and is also actually pretty practical. For example, you could send something small to a colleague on the other side of the office.
Hands up if you hate housework?
The ultimate RC toy for the lazy bones among you, now you can get a toy (or you child who is playing with it) to clean your house for you, thanks to the RC Sugoi Mop.
And if you are even too much of a coach potato to get up and throw away your just-eaten fast food wrappers, then fear not. You now have a Gomiba Go Remote Control Garbage Can so that the trash can come to you instead.
Do you know any other unusual RC toys?
Remember the Tamagotchi? You know, the digital pet from Bandai that was all the rage when it was first released in 1996?
It went on to sell 40 million units around the world but then the boom dried up. People stopped buying the quirky mini handheld “pet” console and the stock was left to collect dust in the Bandai warehouse. Another toy trend had seemingly come and gone.
But then Bandai tried again. It re-launched the Tamagotchi in 2004 and deliberately did not try to start a “boom” — typically a cardinal sin if you value your sales in Japan, which often seems to exist solely on micro booms of products or celebrities.
Instead, Bandai set out to target only female elementary school students, in contrast to the first generation of Tamagotchi, which were bought and beloved (for a while) by people of all ages.
The new series of Tamagotchi, with updated models released almost annually, were specifically catered to the narrower demographic and also enhanced the tech, including cross-device interactivity, such as with mobile phones. The results justified Bandai’s, by local standards, unusual scheme. Sales from 2004 to 2011 tallied in at 39 million — the tortoise, rather than the hare, but no one can disagree that this kind of performance is better for the long run.
The Tamagotchi revival has been seeded by events such as the yearly Tamagotchi Thank You Festa, which for the product’s fifteenth anniversary event attracted 20,000 visitors. Also, the Tamagotchi Department Store, first opened in Tokyo Dome in 2007 and then soon moving to the Serengeti of Japanese youngsters that is Harajuku, has played a big role in keeping interest in the series alive — and also providing a place for fans to come and congregate.
In the store you can get not just Tamagotchi models, but also Tamagotchi sweets, cuddly toys, clothes and stationery. Heck, it even offers Tamagotchi donuts!
The bad news for overseas fans is that Bandai is not pushing Tamagotchi globally anymore, it seems, though at time of writing, the Tamagotchi iD L is available from the Japan Trend Shop for worldwide shipping.