Tenugui are personal hand towels, similar to a handkerchief. They are extremely versatile and can be used as anything from a sweatband or a belt, a bag or a dishcloth. Tenugui were first used over one thousand years ago as a luxury commodity made of expensive fabric, but became thinner and more functional during the Edo Period.
Modern necklaces, earrings and brooches are more interesting with a traditional Japanese twist. These days, old school fabrics and patterns or timeless lacquering techniques bring personality to everyday accessories.
Noren are curtains, but they aren’t limited to use in windows. Long ago, they were used for functional purposes like providing shade or sectioning off part of a room. Today, you’ll often find noren in storefronts and inside some restaurants, mostly for decorative purposes.
The hand fan has become a symbol of East Asian culture. Not only ornamental but culturally significant as well as functional, fans remain a popular souvenir. Folding fans were invented in Japan sometime around the 8th century CE. They were influenced by the hand fans of ancient China, which were mostly fixed in their shape.
The best gift is a gift you can use, and decorative handmade coasters from Japan will add a touch of Eastern style and luxury to any home. Look for ones made with traditional elements, like upcycled kimono fabrics or thick washi paper.
Washi is traditional Japanese style paper. It is thicker and sturdier than common paper made of wood pulp, and quality pieces are often handmade. Some styles can even be used in the kitchen to absorb cooking oil or as a decorative place to lay the wagashi (Japanese confectionery) during tea time.
The best kanzashi, or Japanese hairpins, will always have a handmade element to them. Many kanzashi can be used to decoratively create an up-do without a clip or tie, while others are purely for decoration. They are commonly worn with yukata or kimono.
Yukata are the lighter, more casual version of the kimono. They are worn in warm weather, especially for shrine festivals, hanabi (fireworks displays) and other summer celebrations. Yukata are made of lighter fabrics like cotton and don’t require nearly as many accessories as a kimono, so they’re much more affordable. A yukata cut, sewn and dyed by hand (rather than mass produced) makes a beautiful gift from Japan.
Handmade ceramic or porcelain teacups are a lesson in wabi-sabi, beauty in impermanence and imperfection. No two cups will be exactly alike, making them a totally unique souvenir.
Furoshiki are a multi-purpose stretch of fabric. They are often used to wrap gifts or make bags for carrying bento (boxed lunches). Quality furoshiki made by hand can also be used decoratively for things like place mats, hand towels or picnic blankets.