Nostalgia Items in Japan: Discover 14 Intriguing and Timeless Treasures from the Past

Japan is a country that is known for its unique culture and rich history. While the country has embraced modern technology and innovation, there are still some things from the past that hold a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people. In this blog post, we will take a look at 14 nostalgia items in Japan that are still popular today.

1. The Fax Machine – A Relic of the Past

The enduring affection for nostalgia items in Japan is evident in their continued use of the fax machine, a device that gained popularity in the 80s and 90s. Despite being developed in the 19th century and surpassed by modern communication technologies, the fax machine remains a staple in Japanese offices and even households.

Nostalgia Items in Japan

A Survey Reveals 34% of Japanese Households Own a Fax Machine

A survey conducted by the Japanese government in 2020 showed that 34% of households in Japan still own a fax machine, with the majority of users being the elderly. They are more comfortable with handwriting than typing, which is why the device is still relevant in Japan.

NHK Asks Spectators to Send Messages via Fax during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics

Even during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, national broadcaster NHK asked spectators to send messages of support to its athletes via fax, indicating Japan’s continued affinity for the device.

2. Cash is Still King in Japan

Japan’s preference for the past is also evident in their attachment to physical currency over electronic payment methods. While many countries are heading towards a cashless society, Japan still prefers cash.

Japanese Money | Credit: Karl Baron

Cashless Payments Only Make Up 32% of Transactions in Japan

According to a report, only 32% of payments in Japan are cashless, compared to 93% in South Korea. Despite the Japanese government’s efforts to promote cashless transactions, many businesses still only accept cash payments. Even in Tokyo, numerous independent businesses still prefer cash payments over digital payments.

3. Physical CDs – A Cherished Relic of the Music Industry

Nostalgia Items in Japan are not limited to technology and currency; it extends to the music industry as well. Despite the popularity of digital streaming platforms, physical CDs still hold a significant place in Japanese culture. Many music lovers in Japan enjoy the tactile experience of owning a CD, complete with album artwork and liner notes. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of physical media in an increasingly digital age.

70% of Music Sales in Japan are Physical CDs

In 2019, 70% of music sales in Japan were physical CDs, a format that has become outdated in many countries. The cherry blossom music industry, in particular, has a strong preference for CDs over streaming music, as they can sell posters and tickets with them. Popular bands even release multiple versions of their CDs with different cover art to cater to their fans’ desire for collectibles.

CD Sales Expected to Surpass Digital Sales by 2022

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a shift in Japan’s music industry, and streaming has started gaining popularity, CDs remain a crucial part of the industry. In fact, CD sales are expected to surpass digital sales by 2022.

4. Business Cards – A Representation of Identity in Japan

Nostalgia items in Japan also include the traditional practice of exchanging business cards, known as “meishi”. Japanese business cards are a representation of a person’s identity and a crucial part of business etiquette. They are often printed on high-quality paper and feature elaborate designs. The exchange of business cards remains an essential aspect of Japanese business culture, showcasing their deep-rooted respect for tradition.

Business Cards in Japan | Credit: Alpha

The Significance of Business Cards in Japanese Culture

The exchange of business cards is a gesture of respect and formality in Japan. It is an essential element of building relationships in the business world. The exchange involves presenting the card with both hands and carefully examining the received card.

Artistic Designs of Japanese Business Cards

Japanese business cards are often designed with intricate patterns and calligraphy, representing the company’s brand and the individual’s identity. The cards are printed on high-quality paper with attention to detail, making them a unique piece of artwork.

5. Font Art – A Beautiful Expression of the Japanese Language

Nostalgia items in Japan include the unique art form of “moji art,” or Japanese font art, which has been popular since the Edo period. Artists use Japanese characters to create intricate designs, often using calligraphy brushes to produce stunningly beautiful pieces that are still appreciated today.

「ゴジラ(1954)」ポスター (c)TOHO.CO.,LTD. / 寺島映画資料文庫蔵

A Brief History of Japanese Font Art

Moji art has been a popular art form for centuries, especially during the Edo period. It was mainly used to decorate temples and shrines, but it later evolved into a popular art form that people could enjoy in their everyday lives.

Techniques Used in Japanese Font Art

The art of moji involves carefully selecting characters to create a design, followed by using different brush strokes to create the desired effect. The artists’ attention to detail and their understanding of the nuances of the Japanese language make these artworks truly exceptional.

6. Website Design – A Busy and Colorful Representation of Japan

While minimalist website design is the norm in many parts of the world, Japanese websites often feature a wealth of information on a single page. This is because the Japanese language uses kanji, which allows for more information to be displayed in a smaller space. Japanese websites are often busy and colorful, making them a stark contrast to the minimalist designs of other countries.

The Significance of Website Design in Japan

Websites are an important way for businesses to showcase their products and services in Japan. The websites are often viewed as a reflection of the company’s attention to detail and quality. The design and layout of a website can impact the consumer’s perception of the company.

The Aesthetics of Japanese Website Design

Japanese websites feature a unique blend of traditional and modern design elements, often with bold colors and intricate patterns. The use of vivid colors and a lot of information on a single page is a hallmark of Japanese website design, making them a fascinating experience for visitors.

7. Personal Seal (Hanko) – An Emblem of Identity and Tradition

The personal seal, or hanko, has been a staple of Japanese culture for centuries as a substitute for signatures. Even in modern times, this tradition remains prevalent, with official documents and agreements often requiring a hanko rather than a signature, showcasing the significance of nostalgia items in Japan.

Personal Seal (Hanko) | Credit: Jason Michael

The Significance of Hanko in Japanese Business Culture

The personal seal, or “判子 – hanko” is a signature stamp that holds great importance in Japanese business culture. Used in place of a signature, hanko are used for a variety of purposes, including signing contracts, opening bank accounts, and even voting. In Japan, hanko is a symbol of identity and authenticity and is considered an important tool for establishing trust and credibility.

The Fascinating World of Hanko Designs

Japanese people often have multiple hanko, each with a different design and purpose. The designs can range from simple to complex, with some featuring intricate patterns and even precious stones. Hanko designers are highly skilled artisans, and their creations are considered works of art. Many people take great pride in their hanko, and the designs can reflect one’s personality, profession, or even family lineage.

8. Vending Machines – A Convenient and Colorful World of Shopping

Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan. They are found everywhere, from busy city streets to remote countryside areas. Japan is home to the highest density of vending machines per capita in the world.

Japanese Vending Machines

The Ubiquity and Variety of Vending Machines in Japan

Japan is famous for its vending machines, which can be found on nearly every street corner. These machines sell everything from drinks and snacks to umbrellas and underwear. In fact, there are even vending machines that sell live crabs! Vending machines in Japan offer a level of convenience that is hard to match, and they are an integral part of daily life for many Japanese people.

The Evolution of Vending Machine Technology

The vending machines in Japan are more than just simple dispensers of goods. They are a reflection of the country’s culture and obsession with technology. Vending machines have come a long way since their inception, with modern machines featuring touch screens, cashless payments, and even facial recognition technology. Some machines also offer limited edition items and promotions, making the experience of using a vending machine more than just a transaction.

9. Train Tickets – A Journey Through Japanese Design

In Japan, train travel is a way of life. The country has one of the most extensive and efficient train networks in the world. However, buying train tickets can be a complicated process.

Ticket machines in Akihabara, Tokyo
Japanese Train Ticket (Shinkansen Ticket)

The Role of Train Travel in Japanese Culture

It is the primary mode of transportation for many Japanese people, and the train system is renowned for its punctuality, efficiency, and safety. As a result, train tickets hold great importance in Japanese culture. They are not just a means to get from one place to another, but they are also a reflection of the country’s pride in its transportation system.

The Beauty and Collectibility of Train Ticket Designs

Japanese train tickets often feature beautiful designs, with some even incorporating traditional Japanese motifs and calligraphy. Some tickets come with special commemorative stamps, marking important events or anniversaries. Train tickets in Japan are also highly collectible, with some people even making a hobby out of collecting them. The designs and stamps make each ticket a unique and cherished souvenir of a journey taken.

10. Flip Phones – A Throwback to Simpler Times

While smartphones have become ubiquitous around the world, Japan still has a sizable flip phone market. In fact, flip phones account for more than 10% of mobile phone sales in Japan.

Japanese Flip Phone | Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Enduring Popularity of Flip Phones in Japan

Many Japanese people prefer the compact size and simplicity of flip phones over the larger and more complex smartphones. The flip phone’s durability and longer battery life also make it a practical choice for many people.

The Innovative Features and Designs of Japanese Flip Phones

Japanese flip phones are not only known for their compact size and simplicity but also for their innovative features and designs. Many models feature dual screens, allowing users to easily switch between applications and view multiple windows at once. Some even have built-in projectors, allowing users to project images and videos onto a wall.

Additionally, Japanese flip phones often come in a wide range of unique colors and designs, with some even featuring popular anime and manga characters. Some models also incorporate e-wallet functions, allowing users to make payments and store digital money.

11. Furin (Wind Chimes) – A Symbol of Summer in Japan

Furin are traditional Japanese wind chimes that have been enjoyed for centuries. Made from glass or metal, furin are typically bell-shaped and come in a variety of designs. They are hung from the eaves of buildings and are often used during the summer months to create a cool and refreshing atmosphere. The gentle sound of the furin is said to evoke feelings of nostalgia and tranquility, making it a popular item among Japanese people.

The History and Significance of Furin in Japanese Culture

Furin have a long history in Japanese culture. These chimes were originally used in ancient times to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. Over time, they became popular decorative items, especially during the summer months when the gentle tinkling sound of the chimes could be heard throughout the hot and humid days.

The Art and Craftsmanship of Furin Making

Furin are often made by skilled artisans who use traditional techniques to create beautiful and intricate designs. Glass furin are made by blowing and shaping the glass while metal furin are hammered and engraved by hand. Each furin is a unique piece of art, with its own design and sound.

12. Kokeshi Dolls – A Charming Traditional Toy

Kokeshi dolls are traditional Japanese wooden dolls that are handmade and painted. They originated in northern Japan over 200 years ago and were originally made as toys for children. Today, kokeshi dolls are considered to be works of art and are often collected by enthusiasts from all over the world. They are characterized by their simple and minimalist design, and each doll is unique, with its own distinct personality.

The History and Origin of Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi dolls originated in the Tohoku region of Japan, where they were originally made as toys for children. Over time, the dolls became popular souvenirs for tourists, and their design evolved to include more intricate painted designs. Today, they are still made using traditional techniques and are cherished by both children and adults.

The Varieties and Collectability of Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi dolls come in a variety of sizes and designs, each with its own unique characteristics. Some dolls have simple painted designs while others are highly detailed and intricate. Some collectors even specialize in certain types of kokeshi dolls, such as those made by specific artists or from certain regions of Japan. The dolls are highly collectible and are a popular item among collectors of Japanese art and culture.

13. Furoshiki (Wrapping Cloth)

Furoshiki are traditional Japanese cloths used for wrapping and carrying items. They were traditionally used to wrap bento boxes, gifts, and other items, and were often adorned with intricate designs. Today, furoshiki are making a comeback as a more sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. They are available in a variety of sizes and designs, and can be used for a wide range of purposes, from wrapping gifts to carrying groceries.

Furoshiki Wraps | Credit: weekend knitter

The Versatility and Sustainability of Furoshiki Wrapping Cloth

They can be used as a fashion accessory, as a grocery bag, or even as a picnic blanket. Furoshiki are also an eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastic bags and wrapping paper, making them a popular choice for those who are environmentally conscious.

The History and Evolution of Furoshiki in Japanese Culture

Furoshiki have a long history in Japanese culture, dating back to the Nara period. Originally used to protect and transport valuable items, furoshiki became a popular means of wrapping gifts during the Edo period. Over time, the designs and uses of furoshiki have evolved, with modern designs incorporating elements of pop culture and fashion.

14. Kendama (Traditional Toy)

Kendama is a traditional Japanese toy that has been played for over 200 years. It consists of a wooden handle with a ball attached by a string. The aim of the game is to catch the ball on one of the three cups or the spike at the end of the handle. Kendama requires skill and precision, and is a popular pastime among children and adults alike.

Kendama | Credit: Timothy Takemoto

The Skill and Technique Required to Play Kendama

Playing kendama requires a great deal of skill and hand-eye coordination. Players must master a variety of techniques and tricks in order to successfully catch the ball on the cups or spike. Kendama is often seen as a challenging and rewarding toy, and many people enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering new tricks.

The Cultural Significance and Global Popularity of Kendama

Kendama has played an important role in Japanese culture for centuries, and it is often associated with the samurai class. In recent years, kendama has gained popularity around the world, with competitions and events taking place in countries such as the United States, France, and Brazil. Kendama enthusiasts often gather online and in person to share tips, techniques, and tricks.


As we wrap up our exploration of Japan’s cultural identity, the nostalgia items in Japan bring us a sense of longing for simpler times. The sound of a fax machine and the exchange of elegant business cards offer a glimpse into Japan’s past.

Meanwhile, the gentle sound of furin and the simplicity of kokeshi dolls remind us of the traditions that have shaped the country’s cultural tapestry. Whether you’re a curious traveler or a Japanese local, these treasured artifacts offer a timeless connection to Japan’s rich history and heritage.

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