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Stumped for gifts that say 'Japan'? Here are some ideas

These elegant Oriental lampshades fit over any light bulb, and fold down to almost nothing for safe shipping.

JASON CARTER / S&S

By SUE JORGENSON | FOR STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 14, 2002

So mom or sister or girlfriend back in the States is asking for a present that says “Japan” — and you have this uneasy feeling she doesn’t mean the new Nintendo game?

It’s time to call in the pros.

Donna Bosack, for instance, is the buyer for the East Meets West Boutique at Camp Zama, a fund-raiser for the Zama Officers and Civilians Spouses Association. The boutique features Japanese antiques and collectibles, one-of-a-kind items she bargains for at shrine sales.

Little kokeshi dolls, the wooden Japanese dolls, “are a big hit.” So are the carved wooden bears from Hokkaido. “That’s what people are coming in to buy,” Bosack said.

Also, “anything lacquer is always good” to send to the States. “It’s lightweight, beautiful and doesn’t break.”

She also suggests Chinese zodiac animals for personalized gifts. “Anything to do with the animals with the Chinese zodiac, I usually send to my sisters, nieces, nephews depending on the year they’re born,” said Bosack.

“As far as going out on the Japanese economy, go to the Noritake outlet and buy the four-piece set of coffee cups, two cups and two saucers,” she said. “And you can get those at the Japanese department stores as well.”

The recently opened Costco, near Zama’s Sagami Depot, also is on Bosack’s must-check list.

“Every now and then, they get certain things unique to Costco … not what they carry on an ongoing basis. There was a crystal chandelier for $1,100. They had Noritake, white with gold edges, a 40-piece dining set for eight, for $225,” Bosack said.

“They have cards, wrapping paper, decorations, a lot of the candies and snack things, fruit cakes, things you would get at Christmas,” she said.

“The other cool place to go shopping at Christmas is the Ginza,” a central Tokyo neighborhood of pricey stores — at least on the main streets. The trick, Bosack said, is to leave the main streets.

“It has a Western feel, a Christmas feeling that’s like our Rockefeller Center in New York City.

“Go down the alleyways, go one street behind the main street — that’s where you get your bargains,” said the shopping pro.

Mary Kay Haughian, second vice president of the Yokota Officers Spouse Club, helps to organize fund-raising bazaars on post twice a year.

But she also recommends off-post shopping at the Hoya crystal outlet store near Yokota Air Base.

Hoya crystal is always a hit. Candle sticks, plates, vases, little sake cups, wine glasses and just everything. It’s beautiful crystal,” she said.

Bosack and Haughian agreed that one of the best gifts from Japan may be one of the simplest: the obi, the broad sash worn with the traditional kimono.

“The No. 1 selling thing is the obis,” Bosack said. “They’re easy to ship folded, even if they’re already folded into a design. They’re lightweight, they don’t break … and reasonably priced, about $20 to $30 depending on the type of obi.”

And they’re versatile, Haughian said. Obis could be used for table runners and dresser scarves, for instance.

“It depends on your family and how much flavor they have for Japan,” Haughian said. “The OSC here produced, in 1997, their own obi book, to show the many uses for obis and how to tie them in various ways.”

The book, “Obi Ties East and West,” may be purchased at the Yokota thrift shop or exchange, she said, and from the New Sanno Hotel lobby gift shop, for $20.

The gift shop also “has a lot of nice obis from reasonably priced all the way to really pricey,” Haughian said. She suggested sending the book with an obi as a package, so “people have an idea of more than just something pretty to look at.”

Haughian, a self-described “shrine sale person,” recommends such flea market-type events for one-of-a-kind conversation pieces and collectibles.

“A lot of people have found interesting things there that they have put to interesting uses,” she said. “If you have a good imagination there are so many things out there that can make wonderful gifts. … It depends on who you’re buying for.”


Bargain shopping

¶ The Noritake outlet is in Hon Atsugi, not far from Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama. It’s at 1200 Shimo ogino Atsugi. By car, it’s 4.4 miles from Atsugi interchange on Tomei toward Atsugi. From the Hon Atsugi station on the Odakyu line, take the bus bound for Shorenji, from bus stop No. 1. Exit at Shukuhara. The telephone number is 046-241-1111. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily but is closed Tuesdays.

Costco is at 2148-1 Oyama cho, Machida city; the telephone number is 042-798-6001. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sundays. By train, exit at Tamasakai station on the Keio line and walk toward McDonald’s for 10 minutes. By car, take Machida Kaido from Hachioji, toward Yokohama. Take a right at Oyama intersection, then a left at the first stop light; Costco should be in sight.

A wide selection of obis can be found on or near all bases. Shopping “pros” say the traditional kimono sashes make versatile gifts.
JASON CARTER / S&S

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