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FOCUS: Southeast Asian wares see booming popularity in Japan.

TOKYO, Jan. 17 Kyodo

Asian handicrafts are seeing a boom in Japan, mostly among young women.

Many are now going to cities such as Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City on shopping sprees to enjoy spicy food and buy loads of kitchenware and pottery such as Vietnam's Bachan-style teacups at just 20 yen a set.

For those who want to enjoy their Asian shopping in Tokyo, there are many shops, small, large, boutique-like and even makeshift at stalls in stations, dealing in Southeast Asian goods.

Sawako Tanaka, 18, said she has bought ornaments and incense from such shops. '' I buy a wide range of wares from a neighborhood shop that sells goods from around the world,'' she said.

Vietnam Alice, a restaurant-cum-houseware shop in the downtown Tokyo district of Akasaka is replete with Vietnamese furniture and offers Vietnamese specialties for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In an ante-room it sells a variety of hand-crafted gift items.

''These sell very well. They are cute and inexpensive,'' said Keiko Tanaka, an employee there, pointing to delicately woven bamboo sheath baskets priced just 300 yen each. She picked up a glass jar encased in a bamboo-sheath that is ''perfect as a wine decanter.''

She is also contemplating selling ''Ao Dai,'' the tight-fitting women's wear that is uniquely Vietnamese. The catch is that 15 parts of the body have to be measured to make a perfectly fitting Ao Dai.

Many fashion-conscious young women have their body measurements taken right after arrival in Ho Chi Minh City and trot around the very next day wearing their brand-new tailor-made Ao Dai.

Tanaka says things on display at her 15-month-old Akasaka shop are all of Vietnamese origin. ''These baskets and silk mufflers are handmade by ethnic groups such as the Hmong and the Chaman.

Colorful inlaid chopsticks go for 400 yen, mostly to the young women in their 20s who are her main customers.

Hiromi Sekiguchi, a young customer, ran her eyes around Vietnam Alice and decided on a ''fuku-bukuro'' lucky bag.

A common new year sales tradition, usually at big stores, fuku-bukuro are closed bags filled with shop specialties -- a kind of pay- first, see-what-you-got-later transaction that can mean customers may not get exactly what they hoped for, but do definitely get their moneys' worth, and more.

Sekiguchi delightedly showed off her ''prizes'' -- sets of plates, tumblers, cups, tablecloths and a carton of prawn crackers.

Meanwhile, Akasaka South-East Asian Crafts Toko has goods from India and China as well as Southeast Asia. Toko means shop in Malay.

Clothes and Indonesian masks hang outside the shop, which is itself crammed with silver ware, charm boxes, sandals, baskets, musical instruments, accessories, incense and dresses.

''Customers here are mostly women, not necessarily young. Gift items sell well,'' said shop owner Kazunobu Tomiyama.

In a quiet lane in fashionable Azabu is Kasumisou gallery, featuring lacquer and silver wares, dresses, gift boxes, bags, tableware and decorative jars, from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Barbara Rosasco, owner of the gallery, says her three-year-old shop specializes in hand-crafted goods with emphasis on preserving traditional skills.

''The most popular items that sell are home decorative items like lacquerware and napkin rings for holiday gift giving and small clothing articles shawls and tapestries,'' she said.

A popular winter gift item, she added, is a Pashmina shawl made of the softest, warmest, lightest wool from the belly of the high-altitude Himalayan goat.

Yoshiko Kato, a saleswoman there, said she herself bought a Pashmina muffler and a lacquer photo frame among others.

''Kasumisou is a little different from many shops in that it is involved in small-scale charity in the countries of origin of the goods -- kind of a return program,'' Rosasco said. ''We try to focus on traditional crafts and with the goal of giving employment to handicapped people. We buy products made by such people and think the products should sell on their own merits.''

Pointing to the goods she said: ''These are products of an orphanage in Thailand. These clothes are handmade by Cambodian land-mine victims. Part of the sales of these items goes to the countries of such orphanages and land-mine victims.''

As a nice gift for a young woman she recommended colorful beads worn only during the new year period in Cambodia.

''They are very popular and stylish, yet affordable.'' she said.

Bobby Richards, a shopper, said she was shopping for presents.

''The gallery has some of the best selections from the region, like embroidered scarves of vibrant color and silver and lacquerware.

''Today I bought Indian scarves for my daughter and a Japanese friend of mine. This place has a superb selection of Southeast Asian goods like fabrics, silver, jewelry and lacquer and is one of the best places outside Indonesia to buy Indonesian dyed-cloth crafts. Besides, the gallery's foundation donates to needy Asian countries,'' she added.

Rosasco said her customer age group is varied and sales are beginning to expand.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Jan 21, 2002
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