Jan 6, 2018
"Omiyage" and "souvenirs", albeit often translated as the same thing in Japan, are two very different concepts. "Souvenirs" are mementos to commemorate a special trip, while "omiyage" is meant to bring a little of your trip back with you to share with others who couldn't go. Omiyage carries far more social obligation and guilt than a box of snacks should. But I've written about my thoughts and qualms with omiyagebefore. Today I'm going to talk about souvenirs. I live in Japan and have been trying to clean out my never-ending closet of things I have collected over the years. Not wanting to be a hoarder in a country of cute things, it's near impossible. Instead of going from hoarder to minimalist, I'm just going from "hoarder" to "slightly less hoarder". I have, however, gotten rid of a ton of the things that don’t peak my interest as much anymore; that 5 pound dead weight of keychains from my study abroad days, or a pile of stuffed toys from Passport. Now all gone and in the trash or given away. However, there are two souvenirs that I absolutely love and won't get rid of, and oddly enough they are both boxes.
The first one, I bought on one of my trips to Hakone when I was studying abroad here in Japan, at university. We were traveling around and the friend I was with really wanted to visit a store her host father had recommended to her. I’m very grateful because the store sold wooden boxes. There were also many other wood-made items for sale in the place, but this little, intricately decorated box really caught my attention. It is a puzzle box, meaning there are several steps you need to take before opening it. But my favorite part about it is its design. It's all crafted from different types of wood that are pressed together then sliced into paper thin slices which are then laid in the box to give it is color. You can watch the artist make some when you visit. The store name is HakoneMaruyama, and is part of a museum. Just get off at Sekisho-ato bus stop.
The second box I own is a music box from Hokkaido. I was there for the snow festival in Sapporo, but we were staying in a little town called Otaru. I came across the music box museum on the cute little tourist map we were provided with and I instantly wanted to go. You can see how they are made, and in a well-sized gift shop, you can design your own music box. The shop was full of different songs to choose from; classic, j-pop, foreign. I decided on two very simple boxes as gifts for friends; Totoro and X-Japan, and one for myself that plays Kiseki by Greeen. I have so many great memories of this song during my study abroad time so I'm so glad to have a memento to commemorate it.
Both items show incredible craftsmanship and skill. Someone put so much time and effort and care to craft both of these boxes and now they each serve a special purpose in my home.
Japan is full of masterful craftsmen. It would be very easy to find something that interests anyone on this planet made by the hands of a master here. If you do take the time to visit Japan, keep your eyes open for some of the handmade items you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else. Support a local craftsman and get yourself a gift to remember your time here. The souvenir is worth it and you deserve it.
American step mom with beautiful Brazilian babies. Raising them in Japan. I'm a crafter too