As Japan heats up as a tourist destination, On Design looks into souvenir ideas that won’t take up much space in the suitcase and are a little less cliched than the usual airport fare.
For the fan-boys and girls
OK — a fan is a cliche, but Nishikawa Shouroku Shoten’s wide range of hand fans are all contemporary in design, with not one “Great Wave” or geisha ukiyo-e print in sight.
Established as a merchant of Japanese craft goods in 1585, Nishikawa Shouroku Shoten now specializes in using pop colors for traditional products, including paper lanterns and fabric purses. Its range of polka-dot Lucky Folding Fans (each priced at ¥4,968) takes some iconic auspicious symbols of Japan and instead of making them the focus of the pleated face, it turns them into details on the bamboo guards.
The kokeshi doll already has the ideal silhouette for the guard, while a daruma (Bodhidharma doll) sits atop a totem pole of rainbow colors, a sea bream leaps from crests of seigaiha (blue sea dance pattern) waves, and Mount Fuji peeks out from a few clouds. If that’s too subtle, there are also matching Lucky Uchiwa (flat fans) with the striking motifs magnified to fill the whole fan face for ¥1,620 each.
Another unusual series worth mentioning is the Fragrant Fruit lineup of paper folding fans (¥3,672). When open, these reveal the peel of summer fruits such as watermelon and peach on one side and their colorful insides on the other. The added twist is that the paper is lightly scented, so that when you use them you can also enjoy the drifting aroma of the fruits.
Park life for the urban dweller
A few years ago, Shibaful launched a lineup of grass-textured electrostatic flocked smartphone cases, introducing different shades of green named after world-famous parks. Since then, it has mowed stars, dots and other patterns into its miniature lawns, and collaborated with sports teams and brands to offer more kinds of turf.
Two of Shibaful’s latest ME (named after Mill Ends, the smallest park in the world) collaborations involve the stitched designs of Pokefasu (artist Junichi Chiba) and Kyototo, the Kyoto-based brand of embroidery manufacturer Duomo Co. Ltd. Both add Japanese details, with Pokefasu’s Shiba dog and Bobtail cat in amusing poses — curtseying with their fur or holding up sports referee cards — and Kyototo’s yarn renderings of ukiyo-e-style cats and various types of sushi. Definitely a gift for those who prefer something a bit bizarre.
Both series come in iPhone 7 and 7Plus sizes priced at ¥4,536 for ME Pokefasu and ¥4,320 for ME Kyototo.
Clearly good table manners
Toumei’s new Oshibana tableware items look like pressed botanical specimens immaculately preserved in clear resin. In truth, they are minutely detailed photographic prints, cleverly transferred to the bottom layer of crystal-clear blocks of acrylic.
Toumei is resin-processing company Masuki Inc.’s own brand, so it’s not surprising that it aims for and achieves hyperrealistic results. The Oshibana line of hashioki (chopstick rests, ¥648 each) and coasters (¥864) showcase the peculiarities of herbs and flowers in such detail, you can actually see between the tiny leaves of fronds. All of the plants depicted are common to Japan — the designer picked the original specimens during a walk near his home — but if you’re looking for something rarer and more dramatic, Toumei also produces a similarly printed acrylic bonsai tree. This kotobuki Japanese black pine is not cheap at ¥25,920 for a small and ¥77,760 for a large, but it comes with a paulownia wood display box, complete with gravel, and is clearly a hit, as it’s currently out of stock. Keep an eye on the website, though, it will be back soon.
Those with a more minimalist preference but a smaller budget, check out Toumei’s Haku line of hashioki and coasters. In place of Oshibana’s plant prints, Haku’s bases are embossed with decorative abstract patterns based on elements of nature. Chestnut, for example, becomes a flurry of V marks, dragonflies appear as a window-pane check and plums are a cluster of uneven circles. Each design is inlaid with gold to make it shimmer through the acrylic, and they are available at the same price as the Oshibana line.