Shopping For Gifts During A Pandemic

Support Your Small Japanese Businesses

Need a gift, but wary of shopping during a pandemic? Go online!

With the uncertainty of the world in general and the number of reported covid cases in Japan rising and falling like a roller coaster, shopping for necessities can feel like you’re taking a major risk. If you’re looking for a gift for someone, or even to treat yourself, you might feel guilty about going out and looking around. One solution: shopping for gifts online. 

Small independent shops were hit hard, with many having to close their doors completely. Those that have managed to stay afloat are still struggling, and often aren’t able to reach the markets they relied upon in the past—namely, people that strolled by their brick and mortar shops and came in.

I talked to a few creative friends of mine and gathered with them some of the best independent shops around Japan. Some have their own websites, while others work via online marketplaces like Etsy or Minne, but all are highly recommended, still open, and just waiting for business. Each has been ranked by quality, shipping, and overall impression out of five.


Traditional Japanese Fashion


The Obi Store

Although summer is coming to an end soon, you might find yourself wanting to wear a yukata as you telework. Or maybe you’re looking for a kimono to wear yourself, but want that vintage look. Check out The Obi Store on Etsy—a Tokyo-based shop that has all your vintage kimono needs in one place. My friend bought an obi here to wear for a wedding and later turned that obi into a bag by purchasing vintage obijime from the same shop.

 

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Quality: 4/5
Shipping: 5/5
Overall Impression: 4.5/5

Kyoto Asashiya

If you are looking for Buddhist prayer beads, traditional style beaded bracelets, or furoshiki wrappers, Kyoto Asashiya, (also on Etsy) is highly recommended. The bracelets are beautifully made, come carefully packaged, and are in a word, stunning. They are in the process of making their own website with more items for sale, so they are also a shop to keep an eye on.

Quality: 5/5
Shipping: 5/5
Overall Impression: 5/5


Alternative Japanese Fashion


Fans of Harajuku fashion tend to be very creative themselves, but sometimes you’ll see something by an independent brand and just have to have it. Two places to watch in that case are Acryl Bones and Ravel Koenji.

Acryl Bones

Acryl Bones produces their own Harajuku street snap fashion magazine, and runs a shop where independent artists can sell their brands. In their online shop, you’ll find clothing for men and women, unisex brands as well, jewelry, accessories, and some of the coolest masks I’ve ever seen.

 

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Quality: 4/5
Shipping: 4/5
Overall Impression: 4/5

Ravel Koenji

Ravel Koenji is an accessory and jewelry store that has pop-up locations all around Tokyo. With everything from resin flower earrings to sterling silver claw rings, this is a shop you can easily lose track of time in. They only sell handmade items by local artisans too, so you know you’re getting a one of a kind item when you shop there.

 

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Quality: 5/5
Shipping: 5/5
Overall Impression: 5/5


DIY Handicrafts


Japan Temari

Those that are good with their hands, or are looking for a gift for someone that is creatively inclined, should check out Japan Temari on Esty. This Tokyo-based shop sells everything you need for making your own temari (手まり) balls, traditional Japanese embroidery, and more. 

Temari ball

Quality: 4/5
Shipping: 3/5
Overall Impression: 3.5/5

Living In Tokyo

If you have the materials and can read Japanese, then purchasing a book from Living In Tokyo might be your best option. The books are, of course, in Japanese, but they have a wide selection of titles and topics, including some that sell out quickly from bookstores.

Living in Tokyo cross stitch

Quality: 4/5
Shipping: 4/5
Overall Impression: 4/5


Regional Handicrafts/Handmade Items


Japan Craft Ms

Vintage handicrafts and items made by artists from all across Japan can be found at Japan Crafts MS on Etsy. Their selection of pottery and handicrafts, nor their prices can be beaten, and as my friend pointed out “it feels like you’re buying a piece of history when you shop there.”

Japan craft ms

Quality: 4/5
Shipping: 3.5/5
Overall Impression: 4/5

Glass Kogei Tutti

Those after custom glasses, cups, or even lamps, should check out Glass Kogei Tutti on Creema. This Gifu-based glassworks is well-known locally for its products, which have been shown in regional displays as well as featured in national magazines, too. Although slightly pricey compared to other shops on this list, their products really are amazing and were recommended by two friends from completely different walks of life, which is why I’m passing them along here, too.

shopping gifts online

Quality: 4/5 & 5/5
Shipping: 5/5 from both
Overall Impression: 4.5/5

Toubou Kume

If you prefer ceramics, then Toubou Kume on Creema is another highly recommended shop. Their specialty is pairs mugs and soup mug sets, so if you’re looking for items for newlyweds or couples that have recently started living together, this place is fantastic. Each item is handmade, so no two are exactly alike, and, according to a friend that received a set recently “they really fit your hand well and look beautiful on display.”

Tobo Kume

Quality: 4.5/5
Shipping: 5/5
Overall Impression: 4.5/5


Regional Foods & Drinks


When it comes to regional foods and drinks, especially homemade ones, it’s nearly impossible to point to any shop. Even my friends couldn’t narrow it down, on any of the websites or marketplaces available. If you want a feast for the eyes, just check out the “online kitchens” at Creema and Minne, and I’m certain you’ll find something you can’t wait to try (or send to a friend in Japan) either.

There you have it—if you need a gift and want to support a local Japanese business without having to put on a mask (or even pants!) then any of these online shops should have everything you’re looking for. Happy shopping!