1. Hobonichi Techo
Two of my close friends from Georgetown and I did an international Secret Santa this December. (By ‘international’, I mean one unlucky person has to deal with shipping something internationally to my Hong Kong address.)
My wishlist was a book by Pico Iyer. But what I got instead was a delightful surprise: a bright and beautiful box from Hobonichi Techo, apparently the best selling diary in Loft Japan for the past 15 years. The lime green box itself was made of thick and sturdy cardboard—a silent assertion that this company chooses its paper wisely.
Inside the green box is the star of the show itself: the original Hobonichi Techno, a bunkobon-sized daily diary that you can accessorize with a wide variety of covers. (Mine is naked, for now.) Unobstrusive gridlines permeate each page, so you could use it as a daily to do list, or to mark meetings or dinners with friends, or to make a travel scrapbook.
I plan to handwrite post-shower thoughts in them daily, as I hope to spend more time working on this blog next year. Twenty-one days make a habit!
The diary comes with a pack of illustrated karuta cards from Hyakunin Isshu, an anthology of waka poems compiled in the thirteenth century. Something to bring along when someone teaches me how to play!
2. Dai Nippon Printing’s Olympic Calendar
I picked up this thick and free envelope when my friend brought me to visit a show on Karl Gerstner at Ginza Graphic Gallery (which Dai Nippon Printing owns) earlier this month.
This summer, the Financial Times reported that Dentsu had strongarmed almost every single corporate household name to pitch in money for the 2020 Olympics: “The conservative chief executives of corporate Japan were convinced to dig deep by a campaign that tugged on patriotic heartstrings and was marked by a level of speed and focus rarely seen before.” Nothing is more effective at reminding a salaryman of his corporate patriotic duty than literally decorating a section of Nihombashi with Olympic garb.
But despite how abhorrent a Dentsu-dominated Olympics is, and despite how much of a throwaway item this calendar is, it’s still a beautifully designed calendar. It even comes with a cardboard stand, so you can prop it up on a wall. And it has stickers of DNP’s corporate mascot, which is a penguin. And a sports-themed crossword puzzle.
3. Kirin’s Samurai Japan calendar
I found this calendar for the Japanese national soccer team while waiting in line for Takano Ramen. Accompanying the calendar is a large prewritten notice telling people when the store would open in the new year. It reminds me of the red handwritten notices that you can find across Hong Kong when stores close for up to a week during the Lunar New Year.
I would guess that someone from Kirin Beer visited Ms. Takano earlier this year, and she decided that she didn’t need Kirin Beer’s help in telling the world how she runs her ramen shop. So now this glossy scroll is on my bedroom door.
Time is a construct. We don’t count down to a new year and see everything thereafter with champagne-tinted lenses. We don’t wake up in the next decade with refreshed brain cells, or with a renewed vigour to fight the injustices of the world.
But having observed Japan mark an imperial transition while inside and outside the country, I am reminded of how much a culture treasures time, perhaps because we never have enough of it. In Chinese culture, it might be rude to gift a guest a clock, but in Japan, people face it head on. It’s a chance for people to express their thanks to their friends and family over mikan in the last night of the year; an opportunity to mark every shopping and tourism event as a first in the Reiwa era; an excuse for companies to renew their connections with nengajo (and for Japan Post to make bank); an event to get on an overnight train and line up at a shrine or temple to sip on some amazake in the cold; a national mental space for endings, as well as beginnings.
Happy new year.