What’s In A Japanese Woman’s Purse? Let’s Look Inside!

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

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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

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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!

  • 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….