Do as Much as you Can in One Day
The first step is to plan your shopping carefully. According to my friend Jenny, who is an American, but lives in Taipei, her mission shopping is usually better planned than her actual trip. She recommends to do as much as you can in one day, and do it early – advice I wholeheartedly agree with. Once it’s out of the way, you can relax and enjoy the rest of your vacation, without having to make unscheduled stops during sightseeing to buy so or so item, not to mention having to lug it around with you for the rest of the day.
To maximise your day, she also suggests limiting your shopping to one area, like Shinjuku or Shibuya – both areas have branches of most major chain stores. For anything electronic, Yodobashi Camera or Bic Camera should do the trick. For cosmetics, you will need to hit the big department stores like Odakyu or Tokyu. For personal care and hygiene products, major drugstore chains like Matsumoto Kiyoshi or Tomod’s are the places to go. For anything related to children, most department stores have a well-stocked kids section.
Finally, I was reminded not to forget about the Japanese snacks and sweets that are transportable. For a wide selection of popular items, look no further than Don Quixote and the ubiquitous convenience stores. Basement floors of Departments stores, as well as Bic camera have liquor sections, in case you’ve been asked for Japanese sake or whisky. Tokyu hands and 100-yen shops are great places for everyday goods, such as things for the kitchen and the bathroom, as well as cute and / or useful stationery items.
Feel good and look good
I asked Jenny about some of her past “mission items”. Since she lives in Taiwan, she usually gets asked for Japanese supplements and health foods, as well as anti-aging products such as skin-care from famous Japanese cosmetics brands. One example is “abura torigami”. “If you have friends and family in Taiwan,” she continued, “Japan is all about hitting the drugstores and the make-up counters – feel good and look good, I suppose”.
I was surprised to hear that she has to buy vacuums and hair dryers for her Taiwanese friends but that’s mainly because they cost significantly less in Japan. On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised to hear that snacks such as Jagariko from Calbee, Kororo grape gummies, and crazy flavours of kit-kats are high up on the list.
Japanese stationery items never fail to make her shopping list. Some items like washi tape (known as “masking tape” in Japan) fall into the cute category, whereas others, such as the stapleless stapler belong to the category of the “Japanese stationery items you didn’t know you needed”. Thanks to Youtube videos and blogging sites, more and more people around the world know about, and want to buy these products.
Another item that has been gaining in popularity recently, especially in the US, is Nikka whisky. Jenny’s friends living in America have been begging her to bring back bottles of Nikka coffey whisky.
Over the years, I’ve also been assigned some interesting missions: Santoku knives, Pokemon cards, Anpanman plush dolls, and even a kid-size football jersey for the Japanese national football team. For friends who used to live in Japan, the items tend to be more food-oriented. I’ve been asked to get ingredients for cooking such as miso paste, furikake, katsuobushi, wakame, as well as snacks like ika-kun and kakipee.
An extra challenge is the packing part – the last thing you need is Japanese food all over your stuff or other souvenirs. Double bag anything that could create a mess, and then pad adequately with your packed clothes.
The land of everything Kawaii
Sometimes she will get vague requests such as something “super Japanesey”, which can be problematic when you have a long shopping list and limited time. In that case, she explains, “I’ll end up getting a bento handkerchief (“furoshiki”) with the most Japanesey print I can find”. However, she lets on that “most of the time it gets used as a hand towel”.
Jenny went on to explain that Japan is the land of everything kawaii, and there’s something tiny and adorable for almost everyone even if you think you’re immune. That is certainly true, and it shouldn’t take you too long to spot that unbelievably cute “only in Japan” item, that will satisfy the “something Japanese” requests. I once bought a Takara Tomy Mimicry pet for my niece, a toy hedgehog that repeats everything you say, and I have since gotten requests for two more!
One final piece of advice Jenny had – this is valid for any kind of shopping you do while traveling in Japan – is to “hit the tax-free counters. You have to buy 5000 yen worth of stuff and have your passport ready but “money saved is money earned!”. Finally, I asked Jenny what was her favourite Japanese item to shop for. She replied that she was partial to mentaiko flavoured senbei from Fukuoka prefecture but she likes senbei in general – good to know for my next trip to Taiwan!
If you intend to do your mission shopping in Shinjuku, I recommend you to read my colleague Anthony’s article: