Life is better in Japan. The trains run on time and often. People queue up politely for everything from a spot on an elevator to a chance to take a photo with a 25-foot-tall stuffed bear (yes, that’s a thing). Corner stores are stocked with fresh pastries and tetra packs of sake the size of a juicebox. No one litters. And the sushi? I really miss the sushi. On a recent Backroads of Japan tour with Canadian travel company G Adventures I did the stereotypical ‘Goes to Japan once, becomes lifelong Japanophile’ thing and I’m not mad about it — especially considering the recent influx of awesome Japanese stores opening their doors across Toronto (think: Muji, Uniqlo, and Japanese dollar stores Miniso and Oomomo). At the end of the trip, my suitcase was heavier than when I left but my life at home is better because of it.
If you’re travelling to Japan, check out G’s itineraries (they’ll even book your flights for you) and make sure to leave lots of room in your luggage. If Japan is a travel goal for the distant future then these Japanese products are a good way to satisfy that aesthetic craving until that time arrives. Here are seven to pick up ASAFP.
Face Masks by LuLuLun
No, I don’t mean the kind you see people wearing on public transit (unless it’s flu season, then maybe). I’m talking about the mini-spa-day-in-a-ziplock-pouch kind that line the walls of every pharmacy in Japan. They come in varieties like aromatherapy lavender, calming green tea, brightening sunflower or smoothing silk (made from actual silkworm extract — trust, it’s amazing) and address every skin concern you can think of. Pick them up in single packs to find your favourite.
Chopsticks and Rests
For the love of sushi, stop using the splintery sticks your local takeout spot tosses in with your order buy your own beautiful lacquered pair and the tiny ceramic rests that go with them. Travel tip: sticking your chopsticks in a bowl of rice is a major social faux pas in Japan — it’s only done at Buddhist funeral ceremonies. Nice chopsticks will not only improve your dining experience (how luxe can you possibly feel eating out of styrofoam while trying to avoid mouth splinters?) but you’ll be doing the environment a solid by saying no to the disposable ones.
Japan is known for mastering the art of washi, a centuries-old paper-making technique, so it only makes sense that their stationary is next level. Massive paper goods stores like Loft take a solid hour to navigate thanks to the beauty and quality of their notebooks, cards, paper products, and pens. Even the sticky notes you use to remind yourself to buy Kleenex or dog food are superior to everything we’ve come up with in Canada. Stock up and never scramble for a last-minute thank you card again.
Not just an accessory! In Japan, these cotton cloths or small fuzzy towels are carried everywhere to cut down on waste as well as being super sanitary and convenient (how many times has a broken hand dryer or empty paper towel dispenser left you trapped inside a bathroom trying to shake enough water off your hands so that you could grip the doorknob?). Also: they come in the cutest patterns imaginable. When was the last time you saw Shiba Inu-print hand towels in a public lavatory?
For the ultimate hostess move (especially during a Toronto winter) grab a couple pairs of low-cost Japanese dollar store slippers for guests to wear when they visit. These are a step or three up from the disposable hotel version but not nearly as pricey as the leather or sheepskin ones you spend your home life in. Not only will they keep your friends cozy, but you can stop obsessing about all the pet hair they’re going to find on their socks at the end of the evening.
A Cotton Yukata
Nothing is more comfortable or elegant for summertime around-the-house hangouts than this cotton version of the more formal Kimono. The prettiest ones are Shibori-dyed shades of blue. If you’re in Kyoto or Tokyo, you can pick up a good quality second-hand yukata for less than $30.
Seven Spice Seasoning
Trust me when I tell you that the Japanese spice blend known as tshichimi togarashi will be your new go-to for everything from giving new life to your rice bowls to garnishing your favourite savoury cocktail. It’s also really good for you — a typical blend includes dried seaweed, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and garlic. It’s spicy, citrusy, flavourful perfection.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Corrina Allen-Kiersons)