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Have you ever spent time with a Japanese person of the female persuasion? She probably carried around a purse, right? I bet she pulled out some interesting things out of it, like strips of oil-eating tissue paper, or a colorful bottle of milky scent water. What about those bits of paper with writing on it that look like they could be tiny books or throw-away labels, but she yelled when you tried to innocently throw them away for her?

Well, let’s dive into people’s personal belongings and de-mystify some of these weird every-day items, learning some subtle cultural quirks while we’re at it!

Kinds Of Bags

Let’s start with the outside and work our way in. What kinds of bags do Japanese women carry? Well, there are a lot of different kinds of thing-holders that people have thought up and slung onto themselves. Here are a few examples.

Purses/Totes

You can find a wide variety of purses in Japan just like you can anywhere else. Totes are popular because they are relatively cheap, match with any outfit, and can carry a lot of stuff. Sometimes you can even get totes as freebies wrapped literally inside magazines such as non-no or Seventeen.

engrish totes

Engrish Totes from GRL

Other purses that seem to be popular right now are leather and shoulder-strap purses. Small backpack-like purses are also pretty widely used.

Photo Jul 10, 4 10 44 PM

Also feel free to go bag shopping on sites like this. (It’s all in Japanese, but at least you can browse. If you want to buy, there’s always the Chinese Ebay-like site Taobao, which takes payment options from around the world so long as you can navigate around the Chinese.)

School Bags

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Middle school and high school students tend to carry School Bags. Sometimes shortened to “sukuba” which sounds like “scuba”, most teenagers opt for one of these bags over a backpack. Some use both, especially kids who go to high-level schools and have to carry twice their weight in books.

scuba

 

There are plenty of ways to show your own style with a school bag. You can choose different colors, brands, fabrics (leather seems to be popular among fashion-conscious teenagers), and sometimes hang whatever keychains or charms you want on them, depending on your school’s rules.

Brand Bags

Japanese women have had a fascination with brand items for quite a while now, and in fact account for consuming over 40% of the world’s luxury brand items. The video above shows people coming in to a brand recycle shop to buy and sell brand-name bags and items for discounted, but still ridiculous prices.

The Things They Carry

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So we talked about the outside, the frosting on the cake. But that’s not what you’re here for. What kinds of layers are in the cake? What kinds of filling? It’s time to explore some common and some Japan-exclusive items that Japanese women consider important to keep with them at all times.

Face-blotting Paper

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Image by おまけラボ

I’m pretty sure that these are used around the world, but Japan has made あぶらとり紙 (abura tori gami), or blotting paper, a purse essential. Used to take off the excess oil on your face halfway through the day, they’re pretty useful. And the ability to package it with any cute design or characters makes them great gifts. I’ve gotten cute packs of these little tissue-paper things as presents at least twice! They’re actually fun to carry around if not just for the sake of having them. With them, you don’t have to worry about having an oily face for your date, although you do have to stand in a bathroom mirror and dab your face with a little sheet the consistency of a toilet seat cover.

In the above video, the uses of face blotting papers are compared with other items you can use to take off oil without removing makeup. Apparently, plastic bags work just as well in a pinch.

Towel

キャラクタータオル☆

Image by Shiroyamafuton

A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker (or person living in an area where the summers are extremely hot) can have. If you’ve been to Japan in the summer, you’ve probably noticed that EVERYONE carries a towel with them. And if you don’t have one, enjoy the sweat from your face drip like warm tsuyu rain.

When I first got to Japan, it was odd seeing how everyone had a colorfully printed towel either around their neck or on their desk at school, but I came to realize how useful they are. You can also use one for drying your hands, wrapping around a cold drink to keep it from getting condensation around it, or waving goodbye to your loved one as they leave on the train (oh wait, you need a handkerchief for that.)

Advertisement Tissues

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Although it’s possible to buy your own packs of individual tissues, there’s a much more economical way of getting tissues in Japan. Just go to either the streets of a big city or to the mall and find people handing out FREE packs of tissues. Awesome, free stuff! But what’s the catch? They have little advertisements printed on the wrapping. I really think it’s a win-win situation. They get their word out, I get free tissues! (Which are also great for when you go to a public restroom in the mountains where they’re always out of toilet paper.)

Handing out tissue seems like the saddest job ever if you’re not assertive. Ganbare, tissue girl!

Mobile Phone

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There used to be cool flip phones in Japan with features exclusive to the country, but in the past 3 years or so, the country has migrated to smartphones. Rather than computers, Japanese people have tended to use their phones for internet browsing, even before the smartphone boom, so they’ve always been a bit more equipped with features like email, infrared contact adding, and easy browsing.

Today, iPhones are popular as well as Androids and even some japan-exclusive smartphones, like the ones seen above. One of the downsides to iPhones though is the lack of a strap loop.

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Although people have gotten around that with charms that go into the headphone jack and cases, it just isn’t the same without stuffed animals strapped onto a phone half their size.

Wallet

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Of course the average lady will have her supply of yen. People tend to carry a lot more cash on them, as the likelihood of your wallet being stolen is very very low. People tend to prefer cash over credit/debit cards too, but there are plenty of alternate payment options. Point cards and member cards are also very popular and most stores in Japan have them.

Sea Breeze

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It’s still the middle of the summer and you’ve been using your towel to wipe off your sweat. Still, when in the middle of your sports game, you just feel this undying urge to refresh your skin, maybe make you feel less sweaty, and perhaps even keep the sweat from coming back. Sea breeze does that for you, acting as a deodorant, cooling agent, and kind of perfume. Something I’ve always found interesting is how people apply it- they pat the liquid onto their skin rather than rub it, kind of fanning it onto your skin for extra breezy-ness.

Senpai finally noticed her!

Any guesses on what Sea Breeze’s target demographic is?

Feminine Hygiene Bag

Japanese women sometimes store their pads in pouches similar to make-up pouches. As a majority, Japanese women prefer to use pads, but some companies are pushing for more women to buy tampons- and using a gaggle of gyaru to promote.

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Using gyaru to advertise products for women seems a bit counter-intuative, but at least it might prove effective to all the other gyaru-types out there.

Omikuji

Whenever you go to a temple in Japan, you have the option of paying a 100 yen or two to get a fortune card! Nothing like Chinese cookie fortunes, omikuji are much more detailed in explaining to you your fate. They have a general fortune (bad luck, average luck, small luck, big luck) and then go into general explanation of your near future. After that, there’s categories like love, family, travel, lost things, love, and etc, giving you some pointers and vague hints to what will happen to you. (Fun, or just creepy?)

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Image by EnjoyTokyo

Planner

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or 手帳 (techou) in Japanese, is the go-to way of planning your life if you’re a Japanese woman. It can even become sort of a diary, where you can write what you did or post a purikura sticker that you took that day into its place on the calendar. Japanese techou come with a plethora of useful guides and references on the back including public transport maps of Tokyo and Osaka, unit/clothing size conversions for abroad, lists of how many calories are in basic foods, and emergency phone numbers.

Others

Some other common items you might find include:

  • Eye drops
  • Make-up bag
  • Electronic dictionary
  • Gum
  • Hair wax (styling product)
  • Mp3 player/headphones
  • Pen case

Some Real-life Bags!

Just for your viewing pleasure, I had some of my Japanese friends to take pictures of the belongings that they keep insides of their bags! Enjoy!

Moe: a college student

Photo Jul 10, 4 12 48 PM

Rie: an English teaching assistant

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Kaho: a  high school student (Wallet contents)

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Miyu: a college student

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So, what do the female readers of Tofugu keep in their bags? Was there anything in this list that you didn’t know about? Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks to Leslie for the initial post idea!

Download the desktop-sized image!

  • alua

    I can’t say I have ever wanted to go through someone’s bag. It’s just a little… intrusive.

    That said, looking at those picture-perfect bags, those are all super-organised and neat ladies. My bag contents include chocolate wrappers, loose coins, wrinkly pieces of paper…

  • http://moonlightmartinis.blogspot.com/ artista.oscura

    I love oil blotting papers! I wear an organic makeup that is made using botanical oils, so I use the blotters after I apply to take down shine. Never considered carrying a towel, but now that I’ve read this I think I may start! Thanks for the great post!

  • Zachary T

    wow

  • Breana Clark

    Wow, this is a really interesting article. Neat concept, I would have never thought of it.

    2 quick notes:
    In the Omikuji section, there’s a tiny typo, two letters are inverted in Chinese cookie “fortune” (and Chinese isn’t capitalized).

    And in the section about planners, it should be “It can even become sort of a diary, where you can write what you did or post a purikura sticker that you took that day into its place on the calendar.” (Its place versus It’s place).

    But, small typos aside, this article is amazing. It’s a super cool idea and I love the pictures of people’s purses! I wish my bag was half as organized.

    And I really want to get a school bag now, because they’re adorable! Although I’m not sure it would hold all my books for college…

  • DAVIDPD

    42.

  • Sarah Mouradian

    So many things seem necessary to carry around in Japan! I don’t think I’d ever survive >__<

  • Lourdes

    You forgot a folding fan! ;) Loved this.

  • Ross

    Also you spelled counterintuitive wrong

  • alua

    The towels are oshibori. That’s like the first Japanese word I ever learnt (~ aged 2), when my parents happened to have some Japanese friends (we were living in tropical Asia but not Japan). We’ve kept using them ever since.

    ヾ(*⌒ヮ⌒*)ゞ

  • Pikki

    I’m surprised no one had a sun umbrella with them! They were rather popular with people of all ages when I was in Tokyo last summer.

    P.S. Happen to know of any places online that carry adorable purse towels like those Stitch and Totoro ones? ;) I’d be interested in trying Sea Breeze, too!

  • Kat Lastrapes

    *Raids own purse*
    uhhhh. Planner, wallet, 3ds, cellphone, car keys, fem hygiene, pens. I feel like a pretty average american female.

  • Kat Lastrapes

    What brand makeup do you use?

  • Paulo

    I’ve been dreaming of a Japanese wife ever since. And reading this draws me closer to that dream. At least I know now what to buy for gifts that is related to this stuffs..

  • Rachel

    Same here with the messy bag. There are so many gum wrappers in my bag right now…

  • Mahou Keisatsu

    Omg, Rachel! Your work is really unique and impressive. I really like the topics you choose to work on. I mean, shoujo’s, ya know? I look forward to read your next post! :3

  • Errante

    I agree, great concept! Exactly what this young lady planning a move to Japan needs to know. Cheers :-)

  • shiro

    You would start to consider carrying a towel very, very quickly if public restrooms were not supplied with paper towels to dry your hands with. I’m shocked that wasn’t mentioned in the article.

  • shiro

    wow

  • http://moonlightmartinis.blogspot.com/ artista.oscura

    Vapour Organic Beauty

  • http://moonlightmartinis.blogspot.com/ artista.oscura

    Good to know!

  • http://moonlightmartinis.blogspot.com/ artista.oscura

    Very cool!

  • Rachel

    Girl, I know them shoujo’s. Thanks! : D

  • alua

    I have crumbs too… Oreo cookie crumbs, bread crumbs, whatever crumbs. It’s a little embarrassing to admit.

    (⊙﹏⊙)

    I do clean it out quite regularly though.

  • Rachel

    Yeah, I thought that I’d put it in there but I guess something happened to it when I lost a bunch of edits when writing it. Very true though! Thanks!

  • Jonathan Harston

    You should see inside my man-bag: phone, house keys, car keys, allen keys(!), bike spanner, anatacid, paracetamol, small folded route map for somewhere I lived three years ago, four USB keyboard plugs, mug, teabags, streetmap, notebook, flat screwdriver, cross screwdriver, meeting notes from four months ago, building pass, bus map, another map, timesheet (maybe I should hand that in!) two magazines, two document wallets with paperwork in, pen, another pen, umbrella, fluff…

  • Xaromir

    I can’t believe i’ve read a whole article about purses and their content, but i would enjoy a Tofugu charm/keychain now. :3 I also like the idea of something that smells pleasant to refresh my face with during summer, but i guess pleasant smelling things are too girly. O.o

  • Allyson

    Receipts… So many receipts. I wish I could keep my purse so neat. When I was in school, it was a little tidier, but not much. :3

  • Steven Morris

    This is a great article and idea. If it were my wife’s bag, you’d see a small fortune worth of makeup as well as all of the other stuff! I would love to see the man-bag version of this, as a lot of Japanese men carry bags as well.

    By the way:
    スクバ= School Bag
    スキューバ= SCUBA

    On the rare occasion that SCUBA diving will come up in a conversation, I have about a 50% chance of remembering the correct way to say it :P.

    Another note: In the last few years Japanese stores have been consolidating their point card systems. The “T-point” card might be the biggest one. Of course my wallet is so stretched from having so many point cards in the past that my current collection tends to fall out every now and then.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Tampons! How did you know?

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    If I know my adventure games, all that stuff will come in handy. Soon, too.

  • Joshua Chapa

    They don’t have tampons in Japan. At least my wife hasn’t been able to find any.

  • Being546

    That sounds like my bag….. except I’m a female….
    Contents: Essential make up, Altoids, feminine hygiene products, wallet(s), keys, multi-use knife, screwdriver kit, portable hard drive, multiple usb flash drives, computer charger, iPhone charger, iPhone, ear buds and then the seasonal/weather/stuff i acquired along the way

    ….and it all fits into some tiny bag and i don’t know how XD

  • Ugh

    “What’s in a Japanese woman’s purse? Gee, the same things that are in ANY woman’s purse!”

    Is it just me, or has Tofugu taken a sudden, unexpected, racist turn over the past few articles? First the “Art of Hengao” article (as if everything the Japanese do is an “art”), and now this whole, “Look at a Japanese woman’s purse!” thing. Since when is Tofugu all about gawking at the Japanese and talking about just how DIFFERENT they all are? Since when is this website about nitpicking the tiniest minutiae about Japanese people, putting it on display and acting like you’re all some kind of anthropologist trying to understand some new culture?

    I mean, seriously: look at this article. You’re basically just “othering” Japanese women here and acting like they are somehow different, yet the pictures you show demonstrate that they aren’t really different at all. They’re just normal people. Why do we need to spend time gawking and gibbering about how “differently” we do things…when…nothing’s different? This entire article could be rewritten and summed up as, “Japanese women have just about the same stuff in their purses as anyone else does because they are normal human beings just like you and me.” おわり。 And I note that this is ALSO the same writer who did the piece on Japanese language who basically acted like they had this unique style of listening that…wasn’t unique at all in any way.

    This article reminds me painfully of a common theme on Japanese TV: namely, “Let’s gawk at foreigners and marvel at how bizarrely different they are!” Except, now it’s us gawking at the Japanese. “Oh my God, they listen differently! And their weird faces are ART! And, oh my God, look at all this CRAZY stuff in their purses!”

    Come on, guys.

  • Ugh

    Paulo, thank you for making my point.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Haha, I live in Japan and I’m female, but I’m not Japanese.
    Do I still qualify? ;)

    I have never used those blotting sheets. I have very dry skin after all.
    I wanted to buy them just because of the cute design! ;P

    I do have a HUGE collection of hand towels.
    You really need them, especially in summer, and there are so many cute ones, it’s hard to resist! ^^;

    I always have at least two packs of advertisement tissues in my bag. There are a few toilets where you have to buy “tissues” as there is no toilet paper available, so better be prepared!

    Even my elementary kids all have cellphones and older kids all own a smartphone. It’s crazy!
    And what they put on their phones and bags is even crazier! Sometimes there are so many keychains and straps that it’s probably hard to still carry the phone / bag around! XD

    You haven’t really lived in Japan if you don’t own a million point cards! XD
    However, only a handful really make sense to have.

    I always have at least one omikuji in my wallet. Sometimes I forget to remove an older one and they tend to pile up after a while! ^^;

    A very interesting post!

  • alua

    That all fits?

    That’s like the content of my bag plus backpag plus pannier (yeah, I carry all three pretty much all the time). Additional items I’ve got: kit for fixing flat tire, mini-bicycle pump, rain jacket, laptop, mini-flashlight, headphones, and often my point-and-shoot camera. And an extra cardigan or two in the winter, just in case I might get cold.

  • Johnny

    Take a chill pill.

  • Kat Lastrapes

    Thanks!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Allow me to take some advertisement tissues out of my purse to dab away the QQ

  • Rachel

    I didn’t write the aizuchi article, that was the other intern. Same with hengao, also not me. :)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think Mr. Ugh is upset about all the articles in general.

  • AnatanoKami

    What about manbags or satchels? Are they popular?

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Gotta look for the gaggle of gyaru.

  • Steven Morris

    From what I see, I’d say yes! Currently (for lack of a better term) the “diagonal fanny pack” is in fashion.

  • Yuume

    I have most of these things minus the planner, and I carry candy. Japanese candy of course :D I’m anemic and sometimes need a little something to tide me over when I’m out and about.

  • Candy Rendon

    It is unfortunate, but foreigners make quick decisions initially in order to begin understanding another culture. Koichi and the Tofugu gang are doing an amazing job. I believe their articles are some of the most insightful pieces acknowledging Japanese culture and daily news in the land of the rising sun. From their position, there will always be an article or two that tickles that fine line of stereotyping, but we’re bettered for having the article still. At least we understand that there is some controversy, and that some of us know whether to accept it as controversy or unfortunate coincidence. Gimmeaflakeman talks about this from time to time on Youtube. Keep up the hard work Tofugu!!! good job Rachel!

  • Yo

    Sexist.

  • um

    Well that is obtusely racist.

  • um

    If your bag isn’t shaped like a scrotum then idk how it’s a “manbag”. I don’t understand men who have to remind you that they’re men when they do anything at all, as if they’ll turn into women if they don’t put “man” before anything. idk it makes me sad.

  • http://www.kawaiihaven.com Macchan

    Jeeze, their purses are so neat. Even with the purse organizer thing I bought, my purse still becomes a mess. >_> Right now I have my hello kitty mighty wallet, pens, lighter (I don’t even smoke lol it’s a souvenir from cali, and people at my university ask if i have a light a lot, so figure might as well keep it on hand XD), hello kitty coin purse (seeing a theme?), mini japanese and greek phrasebooks, planner, body mist, lip balm, and lotion.

  • Anna C

    I don’t usually carry a purse so much, but when I do carry anything remotely resembling a purse (look up versipack on google or amazon to get an idea of what my “purse” looks like), it always has a first aid kit. After that, its contents can vary since my wallet and phone tend to go in my pockets.

    On a different but still relevant note, plastic bags might make a viable replacement for blotting paper because most plastics (possibly all, I’m not sure on that front) are lipophilic. That is to say they attract fats and oils rather well.

  • mel

    They do have them but can be hard to find outside of a big drug store. The brand I have is チャーム. You can get them on Amazon.jp. The box is usually blue.

  • Joshua Chapa

    My wife is gonna flip when she hears this. Thanks!!

  • http://blogdanatasha.tumblr.com Natasha

    The question isn’t how everything fits: is how the hell do you keep it all organized. Small cases?
    My backpack is a mess of earphones tangled in keys and Nintendo 3DS charger.

    Finding those keys in front of my house is always a hassle.

  • Jonathan Harston

    or… gan… ised? wots that mean? :)

  • Kat Lastrapes

    I ended up buying some. I love this stuff!

  • lotolight

    i try to keep it simple: wallet, keys and electronics (iphone and ipad) but invariably it always ends up full of papers and mint wrappers >_>U and sometimes a mirror and some make up. Hadnt thought about having a towel in my bag, i totally should its so hot in here!

  • Eshtar

    darn it, those are so neat. My bag always have tangled cables and some crumpled papers and scattered university note. Oh, and pen. ballpoint pen that smear ink all over my bag.

    btw that highschool student has more money than I do….