The 3 Fs
I usually travel back to my hometown in Canada once a year to visit family and friends, take care of some personal business, and just get away from Japan. Almost always during the summer, but occasionally in other seasons as well. Every time I return I pack a number of cheap Japanese goods to give as souvenirs to family and friends, most often bought from a local dollar store/¥100 shop here: folding fans; decorative chopsticks; koi no bori (colourful carp streamers flown on Children’s Day to celebrate sons); furoshiki(a bandana-like cloth, used to bind up packages); postcards of Japanese scenery; abacuses (called “soroban”in Japanese); Chinese dice (dice marked with Chinese kanji characters instead of dots or Arabic numerals); dolls (Japan has a plethora of neat, unique dolls); decks of playing cards and featuring ukiyoe art designs; paper New Year’s kites featuring the Seven Lucky Gods (the “shichi fukujin”); refrigerator magnets and key chains in the shapes of sushi and fish, etc. Different trinkets in their different seasons.
In years past I joked about myself that it looked like I was trying to ship Japan to Canada one suitcase and sea mailed box at a time. Not any more, though, since I live here, not there. And while I still like to collect and admire many things and I still fill my suitcase with Japanese trinkets for family and friends for those summer trips home I have slowly grown aware of the perils of collecting and filling my life with more stuff.
I have long joked that the three standard Japanese souvenirs are “The 3 Fs:”
1) fundoshi (loincloth underwear, most often sported by sumo wrestlers these days);
2) furin (wind chimes, popular in the summer because people say the tinkling-chiming sound makes them feel more relaxed and cool in the seasonal heat); and,
3) furoshiki (the previously mentioned bandana-like cloth).
Mentioning the fundoshi especially grosses out young Japanese women while titillating the older ones. It reminds me of the George Thorogood song “Bad to the Bone:” make an old woman blush, make a young girl squeal. Many people are surprised that I even know about such things. But as an expatriate I am a sponge for the ambient culture and like other foreign residents here I often find myself more knowledgeable about Japanese arcana than even many Japanese.
Published in the Tokyo Notice Board bi-weekly town magazine, June 6-19, 2014.