Friday, March 11, 2011

Seven Things You Can Only Buy in Japan

I bet that when you read the title "Things You Can Only Buy in Japan", most of you thought of sushi, miso soup, Japanese manga books, etc. However, Japanese food and books you can actually get in other parts of the world if you know where to look. What is it then that you actually can buy in Japan that you can not buy anywhere else? Or, more precisely, what have I seen in Japanese stores that I have not seen in stores in other countries?

Sake Juice boxes
It is not so hard to bump upon alcohol sold in boxes in Europe or America. These boxes are, however, usually relatively large and contain most often wine. When the box is smaller, like 200ml or so, I would tend to associate it with fruit juice that kids bring for lunch to school. The Japanese, however, sell small, 180ml juice boxes of sake, their traditional alcoholic drink. You can get those in any convenience store for a mere hundred yen, which, if you measure in booze per buck units, is a really cheap deal compared to other forms of alcoholic drinks in Japan. My favorite brand of box sake is Oni Koroshi, or Demon Killer. It tastes decent, is not too sweet, and warms your heart and soul on a cold winter day.

Oni Koroshi (鬼ころし), my favorite juice brand.

Purikura is less of a good and more of a service. I promised to post a few pictures of it online in early September already, so here you go. The deal with Purikura is simple. You take a bunch of your friends, one of whom has to be female in order to be able to enter (in theory at least). You enter a Purikura salon, most of which tend to be near karaoke bars, izakaya, game centers, or other drunken-teenager-producing establishments. You put together four hundred yen ($5). You go inside a picture booth and take a few "crazy" pictures (or love pictures etc.). Then, on a touch screen, you draw whatever you want on the pictures and give them a cool background. Then you print them out and have them sent to your email address. I am actually not sure if Purikura is only available in Japan, but I have yet to see it in Europe or the US.

The first purikura I ever did in Japan, featuring myself and my two lovely AKP orientation guides, Saki and Erina.

Racoon Tails
One of the latest fashion trends among Japanese girls seems to be hanging racoon tails to their belts. Literally, they hang on their belt the tail of a racoon, fox, or other fluffy-tailed animal, or more frequently a fake tail. I have seen racoon hats in Canada, and dog coats in the 101 Dalmatians movie, but I have yet to see department stores selling racoon tails to young girls in such numbers as they do in Japan.

A set of tails, ready to use. Source:

Double Eyelids
It is the dream of many Japanese women (and most likely other Asian women) to have double eyelids just like white women do, and thus a market developed to satisfy this desire. You can buy a product which you "paste" on your eye like an eyepatch, and when on, you look like you have double eyelids. I wonder if there are any single eyelid patches available for white women?

Vending Machines
I have already mentioned that vending machines are everywhere in Japan, and I mean everywhere. They are on every street, on every corner, on every road, on the top of almost every mountain, inside any forest and on any boat. The bad thing about them is that they really don't beautify the scenery. The good thing is that they sell stuff which you can not buy anywhere else. They not only sell cans and bottles of Coke, Fanta, etc., but also cans with milk tea*, tens of varieties of coffee, hundreds of varieties of carbonated drinks, and of course cigarettes and alcohol, which is a good news for all underage drinkers. You can also choose whether you want your milk tea or coffee bottle hot or cold.

*Bottled milk tea is not only sold in Japan, but also in other parts of Asia. They had it in Taiwan, and I assume that you can buy in it China, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, and other Asian countries. Why they do not sell it in Europe or America is a mystery to me.

A box of Lipton milk tea. 100 Yen in Japan, 50 Yen in Taiwan. Simply delicious.  
Gentei merchandise
Gentei, a Japanese word which literally means "limit", is used to describe a thing which you can only buy in one place. For example, Hokkaido gentei means that you can only buy the product on the island of Hokkaido. The Japanese seem to have a liking for gentei goods as in almost every place in Japan they sell some. There are, of course, many gentei products in Kyoto. The perhaps most famous are so called Yatsuhashi, rice dough sheets with a sweet filling. In Hokkaido you can buy Shiroi Koibito, a delicious white chocolate sheet sandwiched between two cookies, or Sapporo Classic Beer, which supposedly tastes different from the regular Sapporo beer available worldwide. Interestingly, as is the case with Sapporo Classic Beer and other gentei products, many are produced by huge conglomerates like Mitsubishi etc., which however are smart enough to keep selling the products in their region of origin in order to increase their sales. Kyoto's Yatsuhashi are an exception to this as there are seventeen (!) companies in Kyoto producing them.

Kyoto's very own Yatsuhashi (八つ橋). Top to bottom: Tea flavor, plain flavor, sesame flavor. Tea flavor is the best. Source:

Japanese Toilets
I doubt that you can buy the thrones which Japanese toilets are anywhere else. Because I have already written a lot about Japanese toilets, here is a link in case you need to refresh your memory.

There are of course many more things which you can only buy in Japan. They range from souvenirs to traditional longbows and hi-tech electronics, but these are, with the exception of souvenirs, of little interest to the average consumer. Let me know if you happen to know some other interesting things which are only sold in Japan!


  1. Some of these are also available in other Asian countries that get a lot of cultural influence from Japan. I took some purikura and saw some Japanese style vending machines in China for example. Great post tho.

  2. Thanks for the comment, I didn't know!
    Who are you btw? ;)

  3. Just letting you know that purikura (we call them sticker photos) is available in Australia! - some of the machines let you bluetooth the photos to your phone :)