Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

Shopping for a Creative Life

June 25, 2010
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Shopping is an integral part of your travels in Japan. If it isn’t in your itinerary, it should be. You do not, however, need to mindlessly follow the horde of Japanese consumers just for the sake of it. Shopping in Japan can also be as cultural of an experience as is ringing the bell in a Shinto shrine.

Calling itself the “Creative Life Store,” Tokyu Hands is a department store chain that houses multiple floors of stationery, gifts, cooking utilities, home decorations, furniture, gadgets, and super kawaii toys. Wandering around the huge complex, you will quickly realize that apart from providing hours of pleasure and making you miss the last train back to the hotel, Tokyu Hands gives you an insightful glimpse into popular Japanese culture and Japanese ingenuity. Their biggest branch is in Ikebukuro and is well worth the visit. Many of the goods make great gifts to take home, and aren’t expensive. Take a look at their brochure too.

Thanks to the invention of the Internet, you can do some online browsing of the Tokyu Hands merchandise without traveling all the way to Japan. Find something unusual, extremely kawaii, or  bemusing? Send in your discoveries as comments for me and the other readers to see! The site is in Japanese, but that just makes it more amusing. Here’s some stuff I ran into when I was there:

If It’s Not Kawaii, It’s Not Japanese

May 11, 2010

The Japanese are, to put it mildly, madly obsessed with aesthetics. Personally, I love it. They have an exquisite sense of fashion that I have been trying to imitate for years, their streets are spotlessly clean, their gardens are world-class, and every piece of their food is a work of art in appearance and in taste. It is this compulsion that has helped fuel the infamous “Kawaii” culture.

Kawaii nowadays is a word used to describe anything cute or adorable. Walking down the crowded streets of Japan, you would probably hear the phrase 4-5 times in any given minute. However, the word and concept is entirely different from the Western sense of cuteness. Kawaii is actually rooted in the Japanese values of humility and innocence. It is the humbleness and helplessness of things or persons that the Japanese are intrinsically attracted too. The Japanese word for pitiful, for example, is “kawai-so.” If you take a hard look at Japanese animated characters that are considered adorable, or at the way young Japanese ladies dress, you will see those elements of vulnerability, submissiveness, and meekness.

Let’s play a little game of: Kawaii or Not. I show you pictures and you decide if they are Kawaii:

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 1

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 2

Kawaii or not? Tough one, this rabbit is a bit creepy.

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 3

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 5

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 7

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 8

Kawaii or not?

Japanese Phrase Kawaii Cute 6

Kawaii or not?

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    About the Author

    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" -

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