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10 gift ideas for Mother’s Day: Japan edition

Apron

It’s almost Mother’s Day! And if, like us, you want to celebrate this special person in your life, here is a list of 10 Japanese gift ideas for Mother’s Day that will certainly make them very happy.

Traditionally woven Apron – 100% cotton

To start this 10 gift ideas for Mother’s Day is this really nice apron. Do you miss your mom’s cuisine? Is she the queen of the kitchen? If so, why not gift her this comfortable and elegant apron. The fabric is very light, and even when spending hours in the kitchen, she will forget that she is wearing it.

Traditionally woven Japanese Pajamas

Is your mom elegant in all circumstances? Then this pajama set is perfect for her. The lightweight, breezy fabric is perfect on a hot, humid night. With its very chic silhouette, it can also be worn as everyday clothing. When being used, the fibers of each thread spread and the softness of cotton comes out. It can be safely used by people with sensitive skin.

Lantern hand-painted by Tokyo artisan

Why not give your mum’s living room a Japanese touch with this traditional lantern? This gift will be even more special as you can personalize it with your mom’s name. We will translate her name in Japanese, and our craftsman in Asakusa, Tokyo, will execute the calligraphy on the lantern. A gift that could not be more unique.

Hanging scroll with personalized calligraphy

Hanging scrolls are often found in Japanese houses. It is used as a decoration and can be changed depending on the season. We offer you the opportunity to give your mom her own personalized hanging roll. Made with traditional Japanese washi paper, her name will be translated in Japanese and handwritten by our calligraphy master. You can also choose a symbol to write: 愛 – Love, 金 – Money, 福 – Luck, 力 – Strength.

Japanese tableware essentials set

If your mom is a fan of Japanese food, here is an essential set to have in her kitchen. Included is a small bear plate used for soy sauce, a wooden owl spoon, enju wood (wood that has the power to repel evil spirits) chopsticks, and a blue glass cup.

Woven linen slippers

Make your mom’s life a little more comfortable with these stylish Japanese slippers to wear around the house. The motifs express the beauty of nature. Winds and waves, blooming flowers and leaves, those designs express the joy nature brings. The slippers are made with machine-woven linen.

Celebratory Manekineko

This statuette in the shape of a cat called Manekineko, attracts good fortune in the house. Its red and white colors are also synonymous with happiness and celebration. It’s the perfect gift to wish your mom lots of joy.

Tea set with carps design

Very nice tea set from Uragu, a tiny shop hidden in the back streets of Miyagawacho, one of Kyoto’s geisha districts. On this set are carps. In Japanese, carp is called koi. Koi also means “love”. As a result, carps are seen as a symbol of love. But not only. Being a fish that swims against the river flow, it also represents tenacity, perseverance in adversity, and the ability to achieve one’s goal.

Wooden bento box with sakura designs

If your mom is used to preparing her lunches to go, this wooden bento box will be perfect for her. With its cherry blossom designs, it will brighten her days.

Traditional linen bag with bamboo handle

On the last position on this 10 gift ideas for Mother’s Day list is this beautiful handbag. If your mum is busy from morning to night, this Japanese-style handbag will be perfect for carrying her belongings throughout the day. With its hand-woven linen fabric and  bamboo handle, it is perfect with any outfit.

We hope you found the perfect gift in this list, and that your mum will have the perfect day!

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Happy Cherry Blossoms Season!

Cherry blossoms

This is one of the favorite seasons of Japan lovers: the cherry blossom season. Versatile, it generally begins at the end of March and ends at the beginning of April. Cherry blossoms are not only beautiful and magical. They also represent the brevity of life and the passage of time. Indeed, the lifespan of these flowers being very short, they remind us that we are only on this earth for a short time, and that we must therefore appreciate every moment.

Hanami: let’s watch cherry blossoms with friends and family

花見 (Hanami) literally means “looking at the flowers”. Thus, cherry blossoms are synonyms of great picnics, with friends or family. People prepare their bento (lunch box) at home, with drinks, and go settle in a park, spreading big blue sheets under the trees, to spend the day eating, chatting and enjoying the beautiful colors of the beginning of spring. Feel free to do the same near your home.

On instagram, you can look for #hanamivirtuel, an initiative of the French-speaking community in Japan since 2020, which consists of sharing photos of sakura for people unable to visit Japan at this time.

Sakura tea

In your box is included Sakura flower tea. Although it is called “tea”, it does not include any tea, only sakura flowers, lightly salted. We recommend you to prepare it in a transparent glass, to admire the flowers as well as possible. Below are our recommendations on how to enjoy it:

  1. By itself: Simply pour 120 ml of hot water on the flowers. The clarity of pure water in which the flowers are floating is magical. The water will only taste a little salty.
  2. With tea: You can put these flowers in 120 ml of tea. We recommend green tea.
  3. With sake: With its salty taste, these flowers go very well with sake. As sake is also transparent, it makes it beautiful to look at.
  4. As a jelly: For two jelly, you will need 250 ml of water, 15 g of agar, 2 sakura flowers (for this recipe we advise you to wash them to remove the salty taste), and 2 teaspoons of sugar . Mix the water, sugar and agar and bring to boil. Heat for another 1 minute after reaching boiling point. Then pour the mixture into two containers. Place the flower in each of them. Cool it down at room temperature before placing the containers in the refrigerator until the jelly has solidified.

If you don’t want to miss any of our next boxes, subscribe to Peko Peko Box now!

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The industry of mosquito nets in Nara

Nara deer

In the article, we will introduce to you the history of the mosquito nets industry in Nara, as well as a nice shop that uses those woven techniques to create beautiful everyday life items.

The history of mosquito nets in Nara

Nara was a center of linen and mosquito nets production from the 1880s. Mosquito nets were introduced from China during the 8th century. They were initially used by aristocrats. During the Edo period, they became popular with the general public.

While visiting Nara, you can make a stop at the Yoshidakaya shop. It is one of the oldest mosquito net factories in Nara. The production of these has declined since the mid-1950s.The company now uses weaving techniques to produce light and airy linens.

The fabric is woven to leave spaces between the threads allowing air to pass through. It makes it extremely lightweight and flexible.

Mosquito net Nara

Ban Inoue 

In the next box of our subscription, is included a bag from Ban Inoue, a company created in 1988. It is inspired by the traditions and Japanese culture born during the Azuchi-Momoyama period. In particular the concepts around 華 (hana) and 侘び(wabi).

華 praises a majestic, dynamic and colorful beauty. 侘び represents a simple beauty in harmony with nature.

Ban Inoue took on the challenge of creating products balancing between these two concepts, transcribing the delicate and complex Japanese aesthetic. Items for everyday life, taking roots in Japanese traditions but designed to meet the needs of modern life.

How to use your reusable woven bag

The bag included in the spring box is made using the mosquito nets weaving techniques. Those techniques make it very light and resistant. Its main use is as a bento bag, or lunch box bag. You can pack it, for example, to go picnicking in a park near your home and admire the spring flowers.

You can also use it as a “bag in the bag”, to create a separation inside your handbag, making it easier to find your belongings.

More products from Ban Inoue, using Nara mosquito nets weaving techniques

Pajamas, apron, slippers, find more products from Ban Inoue on our shop.

Don’t hesitate to check it out!

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Camellia Oil from Tokyo Islands

Camellia flower

Among Tokyo Islands, 2 are well known all around Japan for their camellia flowers: Oshima and Toshima. In our upcoming Peko Peko Box, you will find 2 camelia flowers items, so don’t forget to subscribe before october 31st.

Camellia Oil

Camellia Oil

In Japanese, Camellia is called Tsubaki. The island of Toshima is known for its camellia trees. It is said that 80% of the trees on the island are camellias. 60% of camellia oil in Japan is produced on Toshima Island.

Oshima island is also known for its numerous camellia trees. You can find numerous camellia oil products there: pure oil, shampoo, soap. In our Peko Peko Box, we have decided to include camellia oil.

The oil is made by pressing gently on the camellia seeds. It contains Oleic acid, an oil naturally secreted by our skin. Applied all over the body, camellia oil helps prevent dry skin.

It has also been used by Japanese women since the Heian period (794 to 1185) on hair, to make them smooth and shiny.

Finally, it can be used as a healthy oil for cooking. It is, for example, very good with fish or on salads. Its high percentage of oleic acid reduces blood pressure and makes it a good alternative to normal oil. 

Camellia Paper soap

Camellia Paper soap & Aburatorigami

As camellia flowers are a must see on Tokyo Islands, we have decided to include another tsubaki product. In this set, you will find paper soap that you can use to wash your hands at any place: very convenient when on the go. Also included, some aburatorigami or face blotting paper, very popular in Japan, for women, and men. Press it onto your face to remove the excess oil on your skin.

If you want to try all these items, subscribe to Peko Peko Box before October 31st and receive your Tokyo Islands Box.

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Tokyo Islands: best food to try

Hachijojima

In this article, we will introduce to you 4 food items that you can find on the Tokyo Islands. They will be included in our upcoming Peko Peko Box, so don’t forget to subscribe before October 31st.

Ashitaba powder

Ashitaba from Miyakejima

First off, we have Ashitaba from Miyakejima. The island was left inhabited for 5 years after the eruption of its volcan in 2000 and it is a majestic place to admire the beauty of nature. There, you can find a lot of Ashitaba. But what is it?

Ashitaba literally means tomorrow’s leaf. Indeed, it is said that this plant grows so fast that even if you pull it out of the ground, there will be a new one the next day. Ashitaba has been used for a long time on the archipelago for its great effect on health and longevity. It is the only plant known that contains vitamin B12. It has been recognized as preventing arteriosclerosis and cancer.

The leaves can be used to make tempura, noodles or crushed to make tea. Included in the Peko Peko Box will be Ashitaba powder to make healthy drinks or smoothies.

Kusaya Senbei

Kusaya senbei from Hachijojima

Kusaya means… stinky! Kusaya senbei is a very popular snack among the Tokyo Islands. Mister Osada Takahiro from Kusayaya makes the secret broth in which the senbei (japanese traditional rice crackers) are dipped. The broth gives the senbei their flavor (and smell).

The broth is really famous as it is also used to make for kusaya, a horse mackerel dipped in salt water and dried in the sun.

Even if the smell is strong, the taste of kusaya senbei is quite mild. With this senbei, you may better grasp the concept of Umami, the fifth Japanese taste, usually described as a deep savory flavor.

Hingya Salt

Hingya Salt from Aogashima Island

Aogashima is a small island with a population of only 160. It is known for its double caldera volcano. Such a structure only exists in a few places in the world. Inside of the volcano, you can feel the geothermal heat.

From the heat of the volcano, an incredible condiment is made: Hingya Salt. Hingya, in local dialect, means fumarole. Sea water is heated with the geothermal heat. It takes around 13 days for the salt to crystallize. After crystallization, the excess water is removed and the salt is set to dry using only, once again, geothermal heat. Hingya salt is known for its high amount of calcium and magnesium.

Gyunyu Senbei

Gyunyu Senbei from Hachijojima

Gyunyu Senbei, or milk cookies, are a very popular snack on the Tokyo Islands. Each of the Island has their own recipe. But we have chosen the Gyunyu Senbei from Hachijojima.

Hachijojima was formed by two volcanoes. There, you can enjoy palm trees, coral and tropical fishes. A great activity to do is scuba diving, to admire the lava formations in the ocean and maybe meet with a few turtles. You can also go hiking and enjoy forests, mountains and waterfalls.

If you want to taste all these items, subscribe to Peko Peko Box before October 31st and receive your Tokyo Islands Box.

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Best Food to bring back from Hokkaido

Melon caramel

In this article, we will introduce you to some delicacies that we brought back from Hokkaido and that will be included in our next Peko Peko Box. If you don’t want to miss it, subscribe now to Peko Peko box.

Did you know that Hokkaido is very famous for its mint?

Kitami is a city located in the north of Hokkaido, in the Okhotsk Subprefecture. There was a time when 70% of the world share of mint was produced in Kitami. However, the increasing use of synthetic mint flavor led to a decline in Kitami’s flourishing industry, and in the 1980s the once world-renowned Kitami Mint Factory closed. But, shortly after the closure of the factory, the Kitami Hakka Tsusho company opened its doors to perpetuate this industry and keep the Mint Kingdom of Kitami’s glorious history alive. 

Mint is a herb that is grown all around the world. Its major characteristic is the cooling sensation produced by menthol, the most abundant component in the leaves. Mint candies are one of the most beloved Kitami Hakka Tsusho products. 

Mint Candy

Hokkaido ramen: Be careful of the bears

On the package of this ramen, you can see a bear and big black kanjis. The bear drawing with the sentence “熊出没注意” (kuma shutsubotsu chuui), “be careful of the bears” can be seen everywhere in Hokkaido. Indeed, during our trip to Hokkaido, we visited the Shiretoko peninsula, which has one of the densest populations of brown bears in the world and concentrates 80% of the brown bear population of the island of Hokkaido.

Noodles are dried for 2 days to create a nice texture and the soup has a rich miso flavor. It is the perfect soul warming meal.

Miso ramen

The King of Melon

Yubari Melon is a well known melon in Japan. It is considered as a luxurious delicacy. Only melons from Yubari city that have been inspected by the Yubari City Agricultural Cooperative can receive the label of Yubari Melon. Its price can range from 20$ to 60$.

Unfortunately, we can’t send you a piece of those melons , but we found those caramels for you to enjoy in our Peko Peko Box.

Hokkaido melon caramel

If you want to taste all of those delicacies and learn more about Hokkaido, don’t forget to subscribe to Peko Peko Box before August 31th to receive your Hokkaido box.

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Kakigori: Japanese shaved ice

Kakigori Melon

Kakigori are shaved ice, covered with syrup and different toppings. It is a very popular and very refreshing dessert during Japanese summer.

What is it?

Kakigori is a particularly popular Japanese dessert during summer time. It consists of shaved ice covered with syrup. The flavor of the syrup varies, from strawberry, soda, orange, melon or lemon flavor. Stands selling this dessert can be found at every matsuri, festivals that take place all over Japan during the summer. It is a refreshing dessert enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Kakigori matsuri

Today, there are tea rooms and cafes specializing in kakigori. They are then embellished with toppings, each more delicious than the other. There are Japanese-inspired kakigori with dango (sticky rice balls), azuki (sweet red beans) or even matcha cream. Or fruity ones with seasonal fruits toppings such as melon or more exotic ones such as mango or pineapple. Finally, some kakigori are inspired by Western desserts as for example Mont Blanc kaigori, covered with chestnut cream.

Kakigori Matcha

Which kakigori would you like to try? Please let us know in the comments.

Kakigori towel

Included in ou Peko Peko Box of July 2021 is a small towel with kakigori design from Hamamo. The Yokohama Nassen dyeing method and printing technique were developed when the ports of Yokohama opened to foreign trade in 1859, incorporating superior woodblock printing techniques of the East and West. It was during this era that Hamamo was founded as a textile printing factory in 1948. Nowadays, Hamamo continues to produce original handkerchiefs, tenugui, towels, using the Yokohama Nassen know-how.

Kakigori towel

Japanese people always have a small towel in their bag, which they use to dry their hands after washing them, or, in the summer, to wipe the sweat off their faces. This small towel has a kakigori pattern (the shape of which also reminds us of Mount Fuji). 

Don’t miss our next Peko Peko Box, subscribe now

Hamamonyo
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Yokan: have a break Japanese style

Toshoan yokan

The Toshoan shop in Kyoto has been promoting the benefits of anko, the Japanese red bean, since 1950. You can find there products based on this ingredient, some traditional such as yokan, and others more modern, such as cheese-cakes or chocolate cakes.

Toshoan yokan

Yokan, a traditional confectionery with a long history

Yokan are a traditional Japanese confectionery dating from the Muromachi period (1185-1573). The word yokan is written with the Chinese character for “sheep”. Indeed, at the time, this word referred to a mutton-based soup. When it solidified, it formed a kind of jelly, now reminiscent of the texture of the yokan. However, the Japanese monks could not eat this soup because it was meat-based and a vegetarian version based on red beans was created.

Toshoan Kyoto

It was therefore a dish served to monks, but over the years, it evolved into a sweet confection, which is traditionally enjoyed with tea.

Yokan were also very popular because they can be stored easily and for a long time. However, there are no added chemical additives for preservation. So why do they keep for so long?
The first reason is that it contains a lot of sugar. The concentration of sugar improves the preservation of food. The second is that the red bean paste is cooked at a high temperature for a long time.

Yokan may seem unhealthy because of its high sugar level, but the Toshoan store reminds us that sugar is essential to keep you active all day. So why not have a little yokan break when you’re feeling tired? Included in our July 2021 Peko Peko Box, a yuzu flavored Toshoan yokan. Subscribe now so you don’t miss it.

Gluten-free red bean desserts?

Toshoan does not only offer yokan, but also desserts and cakes made without wheat flour, but with anko, red beans, to replace it. The use of anko in these desserts makes it possible to offer gluten-free and healthier sweets.

At Toshoan, you can find gluten-free chocolate cakes, matcha cakes, cheesecakes and even gluten-free pancakes. Surprisingly, the texture is not at all dry as you might expect, but very creamy.

So, on your next visit to Kyoto, why not take a break in the boutique tea room and try one of their delicious gluten-free pancakes, made with anko?

Toshoan Pancakes
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Traditional Japanese Paper Balloons

Japanese Paper Baloon

A Traditional Japanese Paper Balloons maker since 1919

How beautiful are those paper balloons? 2 will be included in our July Peko Peko Box so dont forget to subscribe!

Isono Kamifusen is a traditional Japanese paper balloon maker. It has been located in Izumozaki City, in Niigata Prefecture, since 1919. Izumozaki is a coastal town that flourished as a fishing port in the Sea of ​​Japan and as a trading center with Sado Island. The founder of the company Isono developed the production of paper balloons as a winter job, when fishing was impossible, as well as as an occupation for fishermen’s wives. Making paper fusen (balloon in Japanese) was a valuable source of income during the winter season, in which many locals participated. Until the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989), paper balloon production increased throughout the region, but little by little, makers disappeared and Izumozaki is one of the last city where paper balloons are still produced.

Japanese Paper Balloons

A very popular toy

Paper balloons appeared during the Meiji era, around 1891, and for a time replaced rubber balloons. They were valued as children’s toys throughout the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) eras. Toys for children have changed a lot today, but paper balloons remain popular as simple and nostalgic toys, especially during Japanese summer when nice weather calls for outdoor activities. These paper balloons can also be found at matsuri, summer festivals held all over Japan. Paper fusens can also be placed as a decorative object in the house for a nice Japanese vibe. Blow into the balloon to inflate it and find out what shape it takes.

Japanese Paper Balloons

Help us choose what will be in our next box

Which one of the balloon would you like to see in our Peko Peko Box?
– Kingyo: Japanese gold fish
– Fugu: Japanese blowfish
– Tako: Japanese octopus

Give us your vote in the comments 😊

Japanese Paper Baloon
Japanese Paper Baloon
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Asakusa’s Best Shops: Kanaya Brush

Kanaya Brush

Let me introduce you to one of Asakusa’s best shops. Not far from Nakamise Dori Shopping Street and Senso-ji Temple, is a brush shop unlike any other called Kanaya Brush. They only work with natural hair from animals. This family owned business is now run by Mr. Hideo Ouchi. We met with him to learn more about this unique craft.

Asakusa's best shops
Kanaya Brush

Asakusa’s best shops: Kanaya Brush

The Kanaya Brush company was founded, in 1914, when Mr. Ouchi’s grandfather came from Kyoto to the capital, and opened a shop selling animal hair toothbrushes. Little by little, the company grew and started offering brushes of all kinds: for hair, for body, for clothes…

Unfortunately, our modern world soon saw the boom of nylon brushes, and the sales of animal hair brushes declined. But Mr. Ouchi’s family did not give up and bet on the return in fashion of products made from more natural materials. Thus, 25 years ago, their efforts finally paid off. Sales of animal hair brushes are growing again as our society is looking for more eco-friendly options. Mr. Ouchi tells us that, when you start using one of his brushes, you can no longer go back to nylon ones, the difference in quality being unforgettable.

Asakusa's best shops: Kanaya Brush
Kanaya Brush

Why use an animal hair toothbrush?

Kanaya Brush toothbrushes can be used for 3 months. While nylon toothbrushes will lose their hair, Mr. Ouchi ones will remain just as full, the hair will only shorten over time. Thanks to the hair elasticity, the brush will clean the teeth while gently massaging the gum tissues.

Depending on the hair used, brushes will be more or less hard. There is one for everyone. Harder brushes are made with pig hair. Horses hair is used for intermediate brushes, the mane hair being softer than the tail hair. Finally, the softer brushes are made from a mixture of horse and goat hair.

Asakusa's best shops: Kanaya Brush
Included in the Asakusa box: toothbrush made with horse hair

A million toothbrushes sold?

Upon entering the store, our attention is immediately drawn to a large banner that reads: “Toothbrushes for a million people”. It was Mr. Ouchi’s grandfather himself who made this banner. Indeed, his wish was for a million people to use his toothbrushes.

Today, we can say that this goal has been achieved since more than a million toothbrushes have been sold. But Mr. Ouchi keeps the banner hanging in memory of his grandfather and to remember the new goal he set for himself: to introduce his toothbrushes not only to Japan people, but to the whole world.

We are very proud to be able to help him get a little closer to his dream, by introducing to you his toothbrushes in the Peko Peko Box Asakusa!Subscribe to Peko Peko Box so you don’t miss it as well as the other items from Asakusa’s Best Shops featured in the box.

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What is Kôdô?

We often hear about sadô (茶道), the tea ceremony, or even kadô (華 道), the floral art. But have you ever heard of Kôdô (香 道), the third major classical art that all fine Japanese women should learn? It literally means the “way of perfume” and in this article, we will tell you more about this unknown art.

The history of Kôdô

Incense is said to have been brought back from China to Japan for the first time in the 6th century. It was used at first in Buddhist rituals. Little by little, incense became essential in the imperial court life. During the Heian period, dresses and fans were scented with incense, and poems were written about these bewitching scents. Before battles, samurai cleansed their body and mind with incense.

Kodo was created with the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1443-1490), when he asked the scholar Sanjonishi Sanetaka to classify all the incense that was used at the time. It is for this reason that Sanjonishi is considered the “father” of kodo.

How to practice Kôdô?

When practicing kodo, a plate is placed on coals and the incense or scented wood is placed on the plate. Thus, the wood is not really burnt, and gives off its fragrance in a subtle way.

Kodo, incense burner
A more modern way to do Kodo with an electric burner

In Japanese, when you practice Kôdô, you don’t use the verb to “feel” but the verb to “listen”. Thus, the participants “listen” to the incense, not only with their sense of smell but also with their hearts and minds. It is said that smelling a nice scent is like having a good meal. We feel happy and relaxed.

Kodo scents are divided into rikkoku gomi (lit. six countries and five tastes). Rikkoku correspond to the six types of scented wood: kyara, rakoku, manaka, manaban, sumatora and sasora. The gomi represents the 5 tastes: amai (sweet), nigai (bitter), karai (spicy), suppai (sour), shio karai (salty). To break down a given scent using these elements, it takes years of experience.

Practicing Kodo
You have to “listen” to the smell

As for tea ceremony, Kôdô is practiced in groups. Participants pass the incense to each other and take turns trying to guess the scent prepared by the komoto, the person who burns the incense. Participants hold the incense burner in one hand and form a dome over it with the other hand. Having to guess what composes the scent makes the ceremony look like a game.

Until you are able to practice it …

While waiting to be able to practice Kôdô, we have included in our Kamakura Peko Peko Box, sandalwood-scented sheets, with beautiful hydrangea flowers, from Tenkundo store. These do not burn, but slip into your wallet or your jacket pocket, for example, to diffuse a delicious scent around you.

Sandalwood has a deep relaxing effect and is said to be effective in alleviating symptoms such as mild headaches and insomnia. It is effective in suppressing unpleasant and frustrating feelings by calming the mind.

Tenkudo shop in Kamakura has a long history. In the Meiji era, the genius perfumer Yujiro Kito, the founder of Tenkudo, created the perfume incense “Hana no Hana” and the incense stick “Daily incense” (Meiji 42), and became the No. 1 share in Japan. Then, in 1985, the Kito Tenkudo was restored with the flag of inheriting the “samurai incense culture” in the ancient city of Kamakura.

Scented sheets
Scented sheets
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Japan coffee culture

Coffee was introduced in Japan by the Dutch in the 16th century. However, it didn’t get popular among the Japanese population until the beginning of the 20th century. Nowadays, you can find many coffee shops from big chains such as Starbucks, which opened its first store in 1996 in Ginza, but also a lot of small independent coffee shops competing with creativity.

Coffee Beans at Bell Time Coffee in Kamakura

Where to drink your coffee in Japan?

The first place where you could have a coffee break is a combini (convenience store) such as Seven Eleven or Family Mart. These establishments sell coffee in bottles or cans and also have coffee machines for a fresh drink at only 100 yen. A great option if you are short on time.

You will also find during your time in Japan many coffee shops chains. We, of course, no longer need to introduce Starbucks, the American giant. But did you know that Japan also has its own coffee chains? You can for example have a try at Doutor Coffee, the first Japanese coffee company to open on the archipelago, in Harajuku in 1980.

Bell Time coffee
Coffee at Bell Time Coffee in Kamakura

Finally, you will find in Japan many small independent coffee shops, some of which roast and grind themselves their coffee beans. The way to prepare coffee is quite different from Western countries. Some coffee shops use espresso machines of course, but the most popular way to brew coffee in Japan is drip coffee. The freshly ground coffee is placed in a filter over a cup, into which simmering water is slowly poured. Rarer and rarer now, siphon coffee was also quite popular. This method consists of heating a lower vessel in which there is water. The water will go up to an upper vessel where the coffee is. Once brewed, the coffee will drop back down into the lower vessel.

At home, coffee is also gradually winning over tea, especially at breakfast. Nowadays, before going to work or to school, Japanese people will have coffee with toast, which now often replaces the traditional bowl of rice and miso soup.

Bell Time Coffee
Grounding the beans at Bell Time Coffee in Kamakura


Bell Time Coffee in Kamakura

Bell Time Coffee is a coffee shop located in Kita-Kamakura. It was at first a sake shop, but with the increasing numbers of tourists in the city, the owners decided to convert themselves into a coffee shop and make it a place for visitors to have a break between two visits. Passionate, Suzuki-san, the owner, roasts his coffee beans himself, while his mum greets customers, ground coffee beans to order, and skillfully brews delicious drip coffees.

Ordinary coffee beans are roasted at 400 degrees for 5 minutes, but Bell time roasts at a maximum temperature of 173 degrees for 40 minutes. With a low-temperature approach, you don’t have to worry about burning the beans, so you can spend more time roasting them to bring out the flavor of your coffee beans. Also, because the temperature is low, you will be amazed at the range of flavors that cannot be felt by high-temperature roasting.

Mr. Suzuki prepared 3 kinds of blends for Pekopeko box. Belltime blend, the signature blend, uses beans from Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala. The second is Ogane Coffee, named after the famous Engakuji Ogane (a big temple bell), which is right next to the Belltime coffee shop. The last blend is Pekopeko blend, a deep roasted blend.

Bell Time coffee owners
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What is omikuji?

Omikuji

If you don’t know yet what an omikuji is, this is definitely something to add to your list of things to do while traveling in Japan. It’s a fun and traditional Japanese experience. Keep reading if you want to know more!

Draw an Omikuji Fortune Slip

They are found in all shrines and temples in Japan. They are Japanese fortune-telling paper strips that detail what awaits you in matters of work, love, fortune, health, study, travel, motherhood. You can of course experience it throughout the year, but Japanese people traditionally go to the temple or shrine at the beginning of the year to draw their omikuji.

The fees vary between 100 or 200 yen. To draw yours, there are usually boxes, which you shake to bring out a stick on which a number is written. Your omikuji corresponds to this number. A little more on the modern side, there are also vending machines that are selling those fortune telling papers.

The fortune granted is divided into several ranks: high luck, general luck, medium luck, low luck, and bad luck. It is customary to take your omikuji home if it is of great luck or general luck. If your luck is not up to par, you can tie the fortune-telling paper in designated spots to thwart bad luck by leaving it behind.

Ushi Tenjin, Tokyo
On the right, you can tie your omikuji, Ushi Tenjin, Tokyo

Omikuji are often written in Japanese, but in some temples and shrines, they can be found in English too.

The cutest souvenir

Omikuji can also be found in small ceramic statuettes. The paper is hidden inside and you can retrieve it by pulling on a red string. You can then keep the small statuette which makes a nice souvenir.

For the Kamakura themed Peko Peko Box, we have selected this magnificent dove-shaped omikuji. Why a dove? It is said that the deity enshrined in Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū shrine was guided by doves.

Omikuji shaped like a dove from Kamakura
Omikuji shaped like a dove from Kamakura

They are also very special in that they do not contain good or bad fortunes but rather life teachings. And they are in Japanese and English!

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Nara Crafts: Calligraphy Brushes

Nara Crafts

If you are interested in Japanese traditional crafts, why not check out Nara calligraphy brushes? Kukai is a famous monk who introduced Buddhism to Nara from China in the 9th century. He also brought back with him the techniques of making calligraphy brushes. Nara brushes are known for their flexibility. Using them, anyone can draw beautiful characters like no other. These brushes are made from a mix of up to ten different types of animal hair.

Nara Crafts: Calligraphy Brushes

The history of brushes in Nara dates back to around 1,200 years ago. Kobo Daishi – also known as Kukai – returned from China, after studying the teachings of Buddhism, and founded the Shingo sect of Japanese Buddhism. The monk brought back with him Chinese brush-making techniques. The production of brushes spread throughout the country. However, it was not until school education became compulsory, during the Meiji period (1868-1912), that Japanese people began to use writing brushes on a daily basis.

Nara Crafts: calligraphy brushes
Nara calligraphy brushes

The raw material is very important for Nara brushes. Craftsmen use only animal hair. They select the hair for its hardness, softness, elasticity, and flexibility. They also choose hair that can absorb a large amount of ink. Brushes hair come from animals such as sheep, goat, horse, deer, tanuki, weasel, rabbit, or even squirrel.

The manufacturing process involves a traditional technique unique to Nara’s brushes, called nerimaze-ho, or the blending method. Craftsmen dip the hair in water to harden it and decide which hair should be used and in what quantity. They can then obtain the perfect mix that will correspond to the desired characteristics (hard or soft brush for example).

Nara Crafts: mixing the hair to make the brush

This time-consuming method, craftsmen can only make a few brushes per day, however, allows producing some of the most famous brushes in Japan. Thus, for centuries, writers and calligraphy masters have come to choose their brushes in the city of Nara. Each line drawn with one of these brushes gives a unique feeling, both to the person drawing it and to the one who admires it.

Nara Crafts: mixing the hair to make the brush
Nara Crafts: mixing the hair to make the brush

Akashiya, a brushes manufacturer well established

Akashiya, in the city of Nara, is an institution with more than 380 years of history. The company opened in the middle of the Edo period. It produces approximately 2 million brushes per year. It aims to transmit the tradition and elegance of Japanese calligraphy to the world.

Akashiya brushes
Akashiya brushes

Today, the company manufactures of course traditional brushes for sumi (ink) calligraphy. But also more modern tools such as fude pen which are a mix between brush and pen. In Peko Peko’s New Year’s box you will find a fude pen, wrapped in a beautiful origami paper with traditional patterns. Perfect for practicing calligraphy without needing all the materials.

A traditional custom in Japan for the New Year is kaki zome. This is the first calligraphy of the year, the first kanji that the Japanese compose after the New Year. Our challenge? Write a character (eg yume as on your washi card included in the box) and send us a photo!

calligraphy brush
Calligraphy brush pen decorated with washi paper
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Nengajo: a Guide to Japanese New Year Cards

Japanese Calligraphy

Nengajo: Japanese New Year Cards

Nengajo are the New Year cards that Japanese people send to each other to celebrate the New Year. In Western countries, it may seem a bit old-fashioned, but in Japan, it is still a beloved tradition, and the Post Office often gets overwhelmed at the end and beginning of the year. Japanese people send nengajo to their loved ones, but also to their business partners. These New Year’s cards are used to show your gratitude to all the people who have supported you during the year that is ending.

We will be able to find nengajo in stores from November. There are many designs. But the most common ones represent the zodiac sign of the coming year. For the year 2021 therefore, the ox. Some cards have a number written on them. It is a national lottery number. The winner is announced in mid-January. A great way to start the year.

Design your own Nengajo

You can also, of course, create your own nengajo design. For example, why not recreate these beautiful Japanese kanji? You will find this handmade washi postcard in the Peko Peko New Year box, with a brush pen. Perfect to practice Japanese calligraphy.

Nengajo: Japanese New Year Cards
Hand written calligraphy (dream) by master on handmade washi paper postcard

This Japanese character is yume, it means dream! What better way to start the New Year than wish for our loved ones to fulfill their dreams?

When getting the box, you will also access a tutorial video on how to write this yume character.

The story behind the creation of this beautiful washi postcard

This beautiful item was created only for Peko Peko Box. It is the result of a collaboration of two friends. The first one, Kayo, is a master of calligraphy. She offers calligraphy workshops in English for foreign visitors. The workshops are held in her husband’s restaurant, recommended in the Michelin guide. Included in the package, after learning about the art of calligraphy, you can enjoy a delicious traditional Japanese lunch.

Kayo-san, holding her Nengajo
Kayo-san, calligraphy master

Kayo chose this character, yume, in the hope that all Peko Peko’s clients will have their dream come true in 2021. Her dream is that visitors will soon come back to Japan so that she can continue teaching calligraphy, her passion.

One by one, Kayo wrote the character on washi paper postcards. These were also handcrafted, by Miwako, from the Kami to Wa shop, located just across from Kayo’s restaurant.

Kami to wa
Miwako-san from Kami to wa, with handmade washi paper

Kami to Wa is a boutique specializing in washi paper. The shop is filled with gorgeous items, all made using Japanese paper: notebook, notepad, bags, lamps… Miwako also organizes a really fun Japanese experience. She offers to visitors the possibility to make their own washi postcard. It was after remembering how popular this activity was among foreigners that she suggested that we create these washi cards for our Peko Peko Box.

We thank them for their work which made the creation of this gorgeous item possible!

Japanese Calligraphy Master
Japanese Calligraphy Master
Washi paper making
Making the washi post cards
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Celebrate Japanese New year: 2021, the Year of the Ox!

That you believe in it or not, it’s always fun to look into the New Year’s zodiac sign. And for this Japanese New year, the ox is in the spotlight. So, what to expect for 2021? We will try to decrypt all of this with you in this article.

The second of the zodiac signs

The ox is numbered second among the twelve signs of the zodiac. When Buddha organized a race to choose the twelve animals, the ox, knowing that it was slow to walk, decided to start into the darkness of the previous night. The rat, clever,  climbed onto the ox’s back and jumped in front of it as it crossed the finish line, becoming the first animal in the zodiac. As a result, the beef came in second.

Japanese New year: 2021, the Year of the Ox!
Ushi Tenjin shrine in Tokyo

A messenger of the gods?

Since ancient times, beef has been an essential animal in people’s lives, not only as food but also as a labor force for agriculture. As a diligent and hard-working figure, the ox is a symbol of honesty. He is thus seen as an auspicious animal, a messenger from God with the task to connect people. This is why ox statues are often found in Tenmangu shrines across the country. Tenmangu Shrines are dedicated to Michizane Sugawara, the god of learning. The ox, quiet and working in silence, echoes his teachings.

Ushi-Tenjin Kitano Shrine
Ushi-Tenjin Kitano Shrine

The personality traits of people born under the sign of the ox

People born under the sign of the Ox are hard workers, moving slowly but surely towards their goal and always finishing what they started. Serious, they take care of their family and friends and are always there to help those around them. They are often seen as the big brother (sister) figure. They can be quite stubborn, however, and it is best not to get in their way when they get angry.

What to expect for this 2021 Japanese New year?

Since the ox is the slowest of animals, it is said that the Year of the Ox is a year that goes by slowly. It’s an important year to get things done slowly but steadily, without rushing.

Since this is the second zodiac of the twelve, it is a year to build steady foundations for the future. Do not look for concrete results during the Year of the Ox, they will come later. The Year of the Ox is a year to work hard to start the path to future success.

For this Japanese New Year of 2021, Peko Peko will continue to make you travel to Japan, through our boxes. Hoping that the souvenirs we select and the videos we produce to keep you entertained for a long time to come.

Japanese New year: 2021, the Year of the Ox!
Japanese New year: 2021, the Year of the Ox
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Must-try sweet in Hiroshima prefecture: Joge Yoshu cake

Yoshu cake factory

Located in Hiroshima prefecture, Joge is a nice historical village that has seen the birth of an innovative cake: Kunihiroya’s yoshu cake. Definitely a must-try sweet during your stay in Hiroshima area.

Yoshu 洋酒 is composed of 2 kanjis. Yo 洋 meaning western and shu 酒 meaning alcohol. Yoshu cake (洋酒ケーキ) is then a “western liquor cake”.

The history of the factory

Kunihiroya’s Western liquor cake takes roots back to 1958. Its founder is Toshiyuki Sone. His inspiration comes from the French baked confectionery “Savarin”. Savarin is a cake, soaked in a rum syrup. 

Hiroshima prefecture must-try sweet
Maehara-san head of Kunihiroya

He made the recipe his own by improving it to meet with the rural people’s taste. He used as a base a castella recipe. Castella is a western-inspired Japanese confectionery. Its name comes from Portuguese Pao de Castella, meaning the bread from Castille. It is a soft sponge cake with a nice brown crust on top and at the bottom. Yoshu cake consists of castella cut in slices and soaked in a brandy and rum liquor syrup.

For local people, it was quite an unusual and modern taste at that time, when western confectioneries were not as common. But the delicacy soon became a hit and is still loved by Joge people.

Kunihiroya’s Yoshu cake now

This must-try sweet of Hiroshima prefecture almost disappeared from the map, when his creator, Sone-san, decided to retire. It was without counting on Maehara Koichi, who was running a grocery store next door.

“I felt like it would have been a shame if such a delicious cake, loved by all around here, would have ceased to exist”

Maehara Koichi

In 2005, he heard the business was on the edge to close. He decided to take over. “I felt like it would have been a shame if such a delicious cake, loved by all around here, would have ceased to exist”.

Must-try sweet in Hiroshima prefecture: Joge Yoshu cake
Peko Peko team and Maehara-san from the Yoshu cake factory

Maehara-san had no experience in cake making. But, he was keen to learn. So before retiring, Sone-san taught him everything he needed to know to continue on making the delicious liquor cake while keeping the same taste.

Where to get this must-try Hiroshima prefecture sweet?

The best place to get it is, of course, directly at the factory, in Joge town. You can also get it at Joge station or Hiroshima station. And if you cannot wait to be in Japan to try it, get in now in our Travel to Joge box.

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Best Japanese sweets from Joge: Tsuchinoko Manju

Fugetsu-do Tsuchinoko Manju is an unmissable confection to try out if you are in Joge. I love its delicious pie crust and its sweet white beans paste filling. It is in my opinion one of the best Japanese sweets.

Why is Tsuchinoko manju one of the best Japanese sweets you will ever try?

First of all, we should answer the question: what is a manju? A manju is a traditional Japanese confection. It consists of a steamed bun filled with a sweet red or white beans paste. But, there can be variation in the filling. For example, with sweet potatoes or chestnuts paste.

Fugetsu-do took a very modern and innovative twist on this traditional pastry. A delicious pie crust perfectly baked replaced the traditional bun. The pie crust is deliciously buttery. And the sweetness of the white beans paste surrounding a whole chestnut balanced it very well. A cup of dark roasted tea is the perfect pairing.

What is tsuchinoko?

Tsuchinoko manju got its name from a legendary snake-shaped being. You can notice its drawing on the manju packaging. Tsuchinoko differs from a normal snake. It has a very large belly and makes a squeaking sound while moving around. It has yet to be confirmed, but some say that tsuchinoko have the ability to talk.

The year 1989 saw the boom of tsuchinoko hunting. Joge had its share of people coming to roam the mountains hoping to meet with the legendary creature. Fugetsu-do created Tsuchinoko manju this same year, in celebration of the travelers coming to hunt the fabulous animal.

Tsuchinoko manju should be on your list of the best Japanese sweets to try
Tsuchinoko is a legendary snake-shaped creature

The history of Fugetsu-do

In early 1968, Miyoko’s father founded Fugetsu-do. At first, the shop sold confectioneries broadly ranging from Western-style fresh cakes to traditional Japanese delicacies. However, Miyako and her father specialized over the years in refining the Tsuchinoko cake by blending Western and Japanese flavors.

Year after year, batch after batch, Miyoko kept helping her father. And this helpful hand was more than necessary during the busy seasons of New-Year and Obon. But, one day, the family routine dramatically came to an end. Miyoko’s father got severely ill and passed away. The shop was left unattended. Miyoko could not let the tradition her father created to die with him. She took it upon her herself to learn the secret recipe her father passed onto her. Helped by local elders, Miyoko is now the proud and busy owner of Fugestu-do, carrying on the tradition.

Tsuchinoko manju, one of the best Japanese sweets
Miyoko-san is perpetuating her father`s manju recipe

Most importantly, in order to keep the same taste for 30 years, Miyoko-san and her father before her, put in a lot of work. Depending on the season, the temperature and the humidity outside, the manju must be baked at different times of the morning. Often very early in summer. Then, Miyoko-san cleans the machines. And it takes more than 2 hours to do so.

Miyoko’s production remains human-sized. Along with her 2 part-time employees, they average 700 tsuchinoko manju on a regular day. Keeping it small ensures that we can enjoy the same delicious taste from the early days.

You will find tsuchinoko manju in our Travel to Joge box. The box is available to purchase right now. Don’t miss this chance to try out one of the best Japanese sweets!!

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The making of tatami

Tatami

Meet Yamaki Taichi,  4th generation owner of this tatami shop located in Tokyo. His family has been making those traditional Japanese mats for more than a hundred years. Even if, nowadays, 80% of the juncus used to make the mats come from China, Yamaki-san takes pride in only using juncus from Kumamoto prefecture, in Kyushu.

Our Spirit of Japan box features 2 tatami coasters made by Yamaki Taichi. Get it now!

Click on CC to turn on English subtitles.

Juncus has many benefits. First, it will naturally refresh the air of a room. It has been found that juncus absorb and decompose harmful air. Then, some studies show that it is good for children’s concentration to study in a tatami room.

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Yuzu soap: the story behind a unique collaboration

Yuzu soap

Kyoto Natural Factory

The first actor in the creation of the yuzu soap you will find in your Spirit of Japan box is Kyoto Natural Factory. Kyoto Natural Factory is a human-sized company located in the shopping area in the heart of Kyoto. They are very proud to deliver 100% Natural and 100% Made in Kyoto cosmetic products. In their shop, you will find hand and face soaps, bath products, lip balms, cream, essential oils. All made with natural and organic ingredients, with no added chemicals such as preservatives and oxidants.

Taizo-in temple

Taizoin temple is located in Myoshinji temple complex, at a 30 minutes bus ride from the center of Kyoto. The temple was founded around 600 years ago by the third head priest of the Myoshinji zen school. The temple is run by reverend head priest Matsuyama.

Yuzu soap Taizo-in

Taizo-in yuzu soap : a unique collaboration

How come a soap maker and a zen monk decide to collaborate? Taizoin temple happened to have yuzu trees on its ground. But what to do with those fruits? This is how the collaboration started. Every year, Kyoto Natural Factory team comes to the temple to harvest the yuzu. Then, they distill the citrus to extract its natural oil. Et voila! You get a beautiful soap with a really nice scent perfect to wash your hand or your face. Indeed, yuzu is rich in vitamin C which will make your skin smooth and bright. Some studies also show that yuzu scent reduces stress and improves memory. So why not try it?

How to get your Kyoto Natural Factory x Taizoin temple yuzu soap?

We include this yuzu soap in our Spirit of Japan box! With your box, you will also get access to video interviews of Ishizaki-san from the factory as well as Matsuyama-san from Taizoin temple.

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Daruma doll – How to use the iconic Japanese doll.

Hand-painted daruma doll

One of the items featured in your box Spirit of Japan is a Daruma doll. I am sure you have a lot of questions about it! What is a Daruma? How can it make my wish come true? Where did the doll was made? What is the story behind it and what am I supposed to do with it? Don’t worry, we will answer all of your questions in this article.

Where was made the Daruma doll you will get in your box?

Nowadays you can find it in other part of Japan. However, the traditional doll is still mainly manufactured Takasaki city, in Gunma Prefecture. The city is the leading producer of daruma dolls in Japan. Made in papier mâché, the doll is then carefully hand-painted. Your Peko Peko Daruma doll comes from the Yoshida makers, a family with a long history of producing the red head.

What does the Daruma doll represent?

The round shape face is a representation of Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk founder of Zen Buddhism. Its round shape is a symbol of tenacity: even if you fell 7 times, you will get up 8 times. On his belly, you can see the characters for fukuiri, which here means happiness.

Two other main features of the Daruma are his eyebrows, represented as a crane and his beard represented as a turtle. Both of those animals are symbols of longevity.

You can find Daruma dolls in many colors but the traditional one is red. Red is the color for luck and good fortune.

How to Daruma?

You will get your doll with blank eyes. Fill in the left eye while making a wish. Once your wish comes true, fill in the other eye. Why the eyes? Legend has it that Bodhidharma was prone to snoozing in the middle of this zen meditations. He then decided to cut his eyelids in order to keep his eyes opens. So… yeah!