Rather than the pop cultural stuff you might expect, though, METI has largely teamed up with small and medium-sized businesses to promote products representative of life and culture in Japan.
So what exactly counts as "Cool Japan"? While there's no specific rule, in practice, it predominantly seems to cover handicrafts that combine classic Japanese ideals with a bit of chic. And if that's the case, we think the four products below fit the bill rather nicely!
4. Paper Chopstick Decorations
Many upscale Japanese restaurants have an individual style for their chopstick holders—some are cute like cats, some are elegant like indented stone, and some are creative like an origami crane. But in quite a few restaurants, the chopsticks are covered in paper.
A company called Cohana is now making origami-styled stiff paper that's meant to be folded into a variety of shapes necessary for chopsticks. With these papers, you can make a chopstick binding that will give your chopsticks an elegant look upon presentation, and will also serve as chopstick rests while taking a break from eating. Add an element of “cool” to your home dining!
3. Sakura Pasta
Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, is such an important part of the Japanese experience (see here, here or here), the cherry blossoms themselves have become an important part of Japanese culture. Tamayaseimen in Yamagata Prefecture, famous for its cherries, used beets (to add a pink color) and made their pasta in the shape of the cherry blossoms. Enliven your pasta dish with this “cool” pasta shape from Japan!
2. Origami Paper Chocolate
Found in Palace Hotel Tokyo’s Sweets & Deli shop, these chocolate pieces are designed to look like chiyogami, or Japanese origami paper with Edo Era-inspired (1603-1868) prints on them. Each chocolate sheet measures about 9 centimeters (about 3 ½ inches) and they are available in 12 patterns with 12 flavors and cacao percentages.
For example, the purple one pictured above is 39 percent cacao and flavored with caramel and banana. Other flavors include sakura (cherry blossoms), vanilla, or even roasted nuts. It's an elegant and “cool” gift to be brought back from Japan!
1. Kimono Bottle Covers
Wine bottle covers are everywhere, and in all sorts of different styles. But these have been fashioned using actual Kyoto kimono techniques!
These bottle covers received the 2013 Gold Award [PDF] in the Cool Japan Charming Japanese Souvenirs Contest. So they're definitely on the "Cool Japan" list! They come in different styles, including gold, modern and traditional. Why not offer a couple a matching set of two!
For more information on Cool Japan, see the Japan government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) official site on Cool Japan and its Creative Industries Policy. The website gives regular updates on worldwide contests, exhibitions, and even the The Wonder 500™.