Omiyage At A Glance

It’s been years since we’ve traveled to Japan (despite previously going every summer) thanks to the Pandemic, but we’re heading out soon, and so my wife has been super busy preparing omiyagé (お土産) for all the friends and relatives at home.

Just some of the bags of stuff my wife has collected for bringing back to Japan

Tofugu has an excellent article on omiyage, especially from the standpoint of a foreigner, and how to do it right. The suggestions about making lists and such are true. My wife does this too. Why?

Because at its heart, omiyage is about re-affiriming relationships with others. When you go on a trip, or if you come back from living abroad (as my wife does), you bring back something small and tasteful as a way of showing you thought of them. In the same vein, people will remember what you did, and bring you omiyage at some point too.

I used to work in a large e-commerce company, and when I would go to Japan, I’d usually spent half a day in the Japan office for this company, and would bring some local Pacific Northwest chocolates or something. When my coworker in Japan would come to the home office here, he would also bring something from Japan. The reciprocal natures helps reaffirm our friendships, while also getting some nice treats from time to time.

Even if I stay home one day working, and my wife and kids go out for the day, they will still bring back a little something for me (bubble tea, a snack, whatever) because it’s about showing you care.

When we bring things to Japan, we typically bring goods from the Pacific Northwest, that people in Japan might not easily obtain. To us, they’re easy to get, but obviously it’s a treat over there. When we get omiyage, it’s oftentimes local goods from Japan. One of my wife’s friends brought some treats recently, which I wrote about in my other blog. If you are in Japan, many train statations, tourist sites and such will all have omiyage available because it’s such an integral part of Japanese culture.

Also, the key with omiyage is to not overdo it either. IF you bring back an expensive gift, it puts the other person under a sense of obligation to give back in kind (and since it’s expensive, that puts more burden on them). If it’s someone you’re not super close with, bringing back a small, generic treat is fine too. My wife often brings back local coffee, Pringles (since the flavors in the US are different), and simple candy. Small, tasteful gifts work best.

When should you not bring omiyage to someone? Based on my limited experience, if someone’s not reciprocating, you can probably forgo any gifts for them. Sometimes you’re just not that close to someone and they forget, or just don’t feel like bringing something. Of course, if you bring someone out of the blue to someone, they may feel obligated to do the same for you at least once (more to wipe the slate clean than anything). With time, you’ll get a feel for who to bring gifts to, and who not to, and what makes a good gift.

This tradition of reciprocation isn’t limited to Japan either. When I was much younger, I studied abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam and it became clear early on that the key to getting anything done in Vietnam was building relationships with others around you. I don’t mean this in a duplicitous way, either. It was about people helping people, and this included bringing a small gift when you visit someone’s house, etc.

Anyhow, if you would like to know more, read Tofugu’s article, especially the etiquette section, and good luck!

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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