I have been accused of being a hoarder. Perhaps I’m an unreliable narrator, but I will tell you: I am not a hoarder, just a collector of sorts. My bedrooms have always been tiny museums showcasing objects and images relating to music, art, travel, and literature. When a dear friend helped me move from a college house into a post-grad apartment, her attempts to place items in the “get rid of” pile fell flat as I exclaimed repeatedly “I can’t, it’s my favorite.” My friend, the saint, said “Grace! They can’t all be your favorite!” to which I replied “Yes, they can. That’s why they’re mine!” and proceeded to fill my arms with all my precious and favorite things, in a desperate Smeagol-style.
Seven years and three international moves later, I have pared down my objects. I am not a minimalist by any means, as I still keep sentimental receipts and other debatably useless things. However, I am very deliberate with the things I use daily and occasionally: I want them to be beautiful and functional. Which leads me to a travel tale, told through souvenirs, of my latest trip to Japan.
I had long dreamed of visiting this delightful island, after two decades or so of eating sushi and practicing origami. I grew up writing to my Japanese penpal, who had been my neighbor in elementary school, so I’ve long admired their stationery, stickers, and craftiness. I packed lightly, knowing I would find plenty to fill up my suitcases before my return flight to Milano. So, rather than sharing what to did in Japan, as the internet seems full of guides, I’m sharing a short list (recalling Stephanie LaCava’s An Extraordinary Theory of Objects – but more ordinary than extra this time around) of what I brought home.
I write letters every Monday to keep the habit of staying in touch while offering something tangible, proof of care if you will, to the recipient. While I have plenty of paper upon which to scribe (including an absolutely overflowing collection of postcards from museums, landmarks, and various cities), I was eager to pick up some specialty stationery. If you find yourself in Tokyo’s Ginza district, do yourself a favor and stop by Itoya. Even if you aren’t interested in stationery or crafting, one of the shop’s 12 floors will allure you. I picked up a dozen postcards (okay, double that) as well as a couple of sets of stationery ranging from adorable to stupid cute.
The Japanese are known for taking excellent care of their skin, shielding from the sun’s powerful rays with sun creams, parasols, and modest attire. Naturally, Japanese skincare products follow suit and offer amazing options for sun-shielding and moisture-locking products to keep your skin clean, fresh, and luminous. I mentioned these Bifesta facial cleansing wipes in our international drugstore beauty and skincare products list. They work really well at purifying without drying out my skin. I also picked up a Kobayashi Seiyaku blemish stick, which offers quick overnight treatment for spots. The small size is ideal for travel or use on-the-go.
Have you heard of the odd and scrumptious flavors of Japanese kit-kats? I’ve watched videos of Americans trying out-of-this-world kit-kat options and was eager to test some for myself. I couldn’t get my hands on apple vinegar or soy sauce, but I did try strawberry cheesecake, raspberry, sweet potato, and my favorite: Hokkaido melon with marscapone cheese. What! Who invented such perfection. While your mind carefully assembles itself back together after being completely and utterly blown, here’s another video for those wondering what is inside a kit-kat.
Japanese Nail Polish
Growing up, I was always shocked by my friends’ seemingly infinite nail polish options. I don’t like the clutter, so once I’m “over” a color I pass it along to a friend and keep the shelves tidy. However, the amazing selection of shades by Ueba & Co have made me think twice. During a visit to Kyoto, I picked up light sea green 110 Yamaaoi for myself and a bottle of 036 Mizu Akane, which looks like bubblegum pink, for my eldest niece. The colors are unique and the brush is great quality. These are also locally-produced products, made in Kyoto by Ueba Esou, which opened as a paint shop in 1751. They really understand the craft of color and have a divine assortment to pick from. Pigments are stored in old samurai vaults, located at their HQ. These nail polishes do not contain any toxic ingredients, are acetone-free, and dry in 2 minutes. What’s not to love? Currently, I’m looking to pick up another, perhaps a bottle of 113 Honey.
Have you ever had an eye mask on and wished that it was not only heated, but florally-scented? If yes, a browse through a Japanese pharmacy will satisfy your every desire. MegRhythm steam eye masks also appeared in our list of international drugstore beauty and skincare products because they are really great and basically an instant-spa. They smell amazing, help aid relaxation, and are now a necessary item to my recipe for the perfect nap.
P.S. If you’re looking for a taste of Japan without the travel expenses, head to MUJI, where you can find apparel, storage solutions, beauty products, stationery, and so much more… like, snacks. This store is a true KonMari-level lifehack, with cosmetic containers in every travel size and my personal favorite, pens.
P.P.S. If you are looking for some travel tips for Japan, I curated this Tokyo Design Guide to assist curious travelers.
Discover more on Japan, plus travel diaries for inspiration: