What with all the disruption happening in the world right now because of the pandemic, of course foreign travel for leisure is out of the question.
As I’m sure you must be aware, I love going to Japan on holiday. My time there is always treasured; absorbing the atmosphere, experiencing the culture, enjoying delicious Japanese food, catching up with friends and (naturally) shopping.
So I was very sad not to have been able to visit Tokyo last year but I stay hopeful that the situation will improve and at some point fairly soon I’ll be able to return.
In the meantime, in ‘lock down’, we all have to make the most of things and take comfort in our communities, our homes and the things around us.
When I look around my home I realised that I have a lot of Japanese things; either things that I brought back from Japan, bought here in the UK or were given to me as gifts. I thought I would write about some of the little Japanese things I have acquired that remind of being in the places I love and bring back happy memories.
6 Favourite Things from Japan
'Choose Udon' Banner
My fabric banner promoting udon noodles came from Daiso, cost 100 yen (plus tax!) and hangs proudly in the kitchen.
It says ‘kodawari udon’ which means ‘choose udon’ and I love it because it reminds me of eating Japanese food. Actually I prefer soba noodles but udon are my husband’s favourites which is why we have this banner.
Made from wheat flour and white in colour, udon are fat and chewy meaning that they give your soup a lot of substance. A particular favourite of ours is curry udon where your noodles are served up in a rich Japanese curry soup. Delicious!
One of the things I am sure to stock up on when I visit Tokyo is Japanese brand makeup. Surely it’s all the same as Western brands you may ask, but I’ve found them to be quite different and preferable.
I have sensitive skin and wear contact lenses and often have trouble with anything metallic or glittery. I find some foundations and powders that I’ve bought over here too drying or heavy for my skin. Japanese cosmetics on the other hand seem to be gentler, although still very good quality, long lasting and suit my skin. In short, I’ve got used to them and find replacing them in the UK to be difficult.
For a shopaholic like me, there’s also a lot of joy in buying cosmetics in Japan and shops like Matsumoto Kiyoshi and Kokumin are bright, inviting and contain huge ranges of Japanese and western brands. The best thing is being able to buy premium brands such as DHC and Shiseido at really good prices and with such a choice of products.
Ultraman (and other Japanese toys)
I kind of fell in love with Ultraman when we watched a promotional show in Sunshine City one time where there were lots of people dressed up and some kind of story played out. My Japanese is not good enough to really understand what was going on but he and his Ultra friends fought bravely and defeated the kaiju bad guys. I guess he just looked cool in his bright red and silver onesy!
Since then, I have accumulated quite a collection of plastic Ultramen that are dotted around the house, just keeping an eye on things.
The toy culture is one of the things that I really enjoy about Japan. It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult or a child, these things are fun, collectable and often have a long history.
These plastic characters may seem trivial and childish but they are actually deeply embedded in Japanese culture, where there is a clear separation between fantasy and the everyday reality of your life, and they provide escapism and entertainment to all ages, male and female.
I don’t often buy tea in Japan, mainly because I don’t need to. My dear friends always make sure I am furnished with some beautiful specialist, rare or typically Japanese tea before I return home.
My absolute favourites are these ‘Natsukoi’ and ‘Hatsukoi’ teas. They were bought for me, I suspect, because by coincidence one of them matches the name of my shop!
In any case, they are by a famous Japanese brand and the tea is soothing and delicious. Both are loose leaf, one is black tea and the other is green tea and they are flavoured with lemon and lemongrass. So summery and refreshing!
I was also given a selection of teas by Karel Capek which has the most gorgeous packaging featuring cute themes and characters. I have drunk them all now except this Wisdom tea which I’m scared to drink it in case it’s the wrong moment – how will I know when I really need the wisdom? This is something else that I can’t wait to stock up on when I can finally go back to Tokyo.
This ceramic Lucky Cat was given to me as a birthday present by my lovely friends at Harris Paws. They know me so well!
I love cats and so I’ve created a little cat shrine which I hope will bring luck and happiness to all cats everywhere.
Glass Bottle Vase
I bought this sweet little vase from a fine old gentleman at an open air craft fair in Inokashira Park in Kichijoji.
He was making these little vases from old glass bottles by heating the glass and extruding and bending it into shape. It’s a simple idea but he was doing it very beautifully, creating charming pieces from recycled material.
Being a fan of handmade crafts I bought this small one, hoping that it would be easy to tuck away in my luggage and survive the journey home.
I have lots of other stuff too: fabric items like placemats and napkins, household bits and bobs like my stove top kettle, signs, clothes, 'pura' from gashapon machines and too many other things to mention. They all remind me of being in Japan and the happy times I have spent there.
It’s my way of bringing a little bit of Japan into my home and, in fact, running Hatsukoi has also been a part of that. My dream was to be able to bring some of the beautiful things and the pretty style that I saw when I was away to the UK so that people here can enjoy them too!