by Devon Sponheimer
Omiyage (お土産, oh-me-ya-gay), or the art of Japanese gift giving, is an important aspect of Japanese culture. Roughly translated as a “souvenir”, omiyage has a distinct difference. If you’ve been to Japan, you’ll have seen the local sweet shops with pre-wrapped, lovely boxes of local treats and regional specialties piled high, these are omiyage!
When travelling around Japan, as a foreigner, you will find yourself noticing many stores selling beautifully packaged boxes of treats piled up ready to go. Most do not think much of this coming from outside Japan. However these are all for the tradition of Omiyage in Japan.
Not sure what Omiyage is all about? Well read on to get all the information on this beautiful practice and how you can make it part of your travels as well.
What’s the purpose of these treats in Japan?
Omiyage is purchased by a traveler for their family, friends and work colleagues when they travel. These treats are a way to say “I’m sorry I was away having fun while you were working so hard and unable to travel there yourself!” Remember, you never keep an omiyage for yourself, and are expected to bring something back upon your return.
What makes a good omiyage gift?
Make sure the gift is locally themed. Although food makes the best omiyage, in a pinch you can also buy a branded item, makeup, or perfume. If giving food, each treat should be individually wrapped for sharing. The most important feature is that all gifts should be beautifully wrapped.
Where can I find them?
Omiyage can be found almost anywhere with many little shops selling them! If you’ve forgotten to pick something up while in the city or town, these gifts can also be found at airports and railway stations.
Visiting friends in Japan?
You should also bring something from your home country! For instance, since I am from Connecticut in the United States, I would bring something that Connecticut is known for, perhaps a candy like Pez or something maple flavoured, because I am from New England.
Want to bring omiyage home?
Don’t live in Japan, but want to bring back some omiyage for your family and friends in your home country? Here’s some regional specialties we suggest that you bring back (and even try yourself!)
The Tokyo Banana, this custard cream filled banana comes in a variety of flavours besides the original, like caramel and chocolate or the Tokyo Campanella.
Green Tea (Matcha) Products or Yatsuhashi (glutinous rice flour, cinnamon and sugar)
One of the largest apple exporters of the world, definitely get something apple flavoured!
Castella cakes (Japanese pound cake, I brought back many of these during my first trip to Japan!)
It’s proud to be the ‘foodie’ capital of Japan. You can’t go wrong with ANYTHING here. If you’re a fan of Lost in Translation, you can try the Osaka version of the Tokyo Banana…the Osaka Banana. Compare the two for a Japanese Banana Throw-Down.