13 Products That Represent the Japanese Spirit

sugi-bag

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Japan, you’ve probably heard the word omotenashi quite a few times, as it describes an idea that lies at the heart of Japanese culture.


By Alec Jordan


One approach to thinking about the concept is as a kind of “selfless hospitality,” a way of anticipating what a guest might need and providing it in a way that is unobtrusive, tasteful, and refined. But it’s a trait that is most often used to describe what people do and how they behave. So what would it mean for a product to demonstrate omotenashi?

That is a question that the organizers of the OMOTENASHI Selection project had to ask themselves. Launched by the OMOTENASHI NIPPON organization, the project is a way to discover and draw attention to products and services that represent Japanese culture, but that would also appeal to a global audience. The selection process began last year, with 141 applicants coming in from around the country; the products were divided into three different categories: products related to eating, products related to dressing, and gadgets, tools, and web services—products related to “using.”

Because the products were being considered for their global as well as their domestic appeal, a panel of 11 international experts spent two days examining the products and rating them on a series of qualities—“emotional sensibility, a sense of story, and logical value.” At the same time, the panelists and organizers had to assess how much the products represented Japanese aesthetics, how modern they were, and how much global potential they had.

Last week, the first 47 OMOTENASHI Selection products—which ranged from high-tech speakers to traditional snack products—were displayed at a ceremony at the Okura Hotel in Tokyo. Among these, though, were chosen 13 Gold Award recipients, which were selected to best demonstrate the values of Japan to the wider world.

One thing that this assortment of products shows is that not only the traditions of Japan, but also its considerable R&D muscle, are being put to use in a wide range of merchandise that extends beyond what many people expect from the country. Have a look for yourself.

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These space-age polo shirts combine traditional Japanese sewing techniques with a level of comfort that is out of this world: astronauts from JAXA, Japan’s space agency, wear them on their missions (Maruwa Textile Industries Co., LTD / INDUSTYLE TOKYO)
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Putting a durable twist to the traditional craft of Japanese paper, or washi, these towels are light, durable, and reusable (D-FIT Co., Ltd. / Towels made from Japanese “washi” paper)
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As the name implies, Uchino’s “marshmallow gauze” brings a delightfully light and soft feel to towels and loungewear (Uchino Co., Ltd. / Marshmallow Gauze)
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These light, flexible glasses have been fashioned from a single piece of metal (Megane Top Co., Ltd. / ZEROGRA)
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A revamp of the traditional Japanese zori sandal, featuring a cork footbed and a rubber footstrap (Gion Naito / JOJO)
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Should make a nice souvenir for the foodie: a selection of rice from around Japan, each small bundle wrapped in a different color of fabric (Hachidaime Gihey / Junihitoe Series “Mankai”)
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A selection of soy sauce–infused salts, which should give a kick to a variety of different dishes (Kamebishiya / Soy Salt)
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Add a touch of the traditional tatami flooring style to any room, with a colorful style (Kitaichi Shouten, Limited / “Sarari” Tatami RUG STYLE)
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Senbei 3.0: these traditional snacks come in several different flavors and appeal to both eyes and taste buds (Seikadoarare Co., Ltd. / ARARE no RE)
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A lamp featuring a gold-lace lampshade that combines luxury with simple minimalism (COS KYOTO K.K. / Izayoi)
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Cleverly designed message cards that fold into three different traditional Japanese scenes (Paperly Inc. / ku ru ru)
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Keep a room from drying out, with humidifiers that combine a traditional look with smooth, modern lines (Ohashi Limited / ECO Humidifier MAST)
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A line of bags and purses that feature bold accents of color (Kosho / ougi)

Main Image: Sugi Bag—made from two pieces of cypress, these leather-handled bags will definitely catch the eye.

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