Omiyage is the much loved Japanese tradition of gift giving after your travels, and while it can be said to be a souvenir of sorts (the English translation actually is “souvenir”), in actuality it’s far more. Where a souvenir is meant for the traveler, the Omiyage tradition is specifically for the friends and family back home. This distinctive form of Japanese gift giving is central to travel culture in Japan, but Omiyage is not just a travel trinket, it’s a long held tradition for anyone away from home, whether for vacation or business. Many times the search for the perfect Omiyage can take the thoughtful traveler an extensive amount of time just to pick out! While traveling in Japan, keep this tradition in mind and surprise your friends and coworkers in the Japanese tradition.
How Did Omiyage Get Started?
Though the actual origin is unclear, the tradition and history of Omiyage is thought to come from the gifts brought back from age-old sacred pilgrimages to Shinto shrines. The travelers would bring back “evidence” of their pilgrimage to their waiting families and friends, typically religiously significant items like charms or cups used for rice wine. It was also thought that these items would give protection not only to the pilgrims but to those who received the gifts after the sacred trip as well.
Why Try The Omiyage Tradition?
When traveling, its always fun to incorporate local traditions into your trip, no matter where you go. In Japan, when friends and coworkers travel around the country, they bring back small gifts, or Omiyage, almost always as edible little treats in decorative boxes. While traveling elsewhere, you can create your own Omiyage tradition as well, and surprise the people back home! It’s a fun and immersive way to see the local sights and sample the local tastes, and will give you a broader perspective of the places you visit. It also brings the recipient a personal bit of your travels, and transports your friends and family to the area you visited!
What Is A “Traditional” Omiyage Travel Gift?
The favorite and most traditional Omiyage gift is an edible treat from the local area you visited, such as a small box of sweets or cookies. For example, if you were traveling to Okinawa, your gift could be a cake or sweet treat made with Benimo, which is a sweet purple potato. If in Hiroshima, where they produce the most lemon-flavored treats in Japan, a box of lemon cookies would be perfect.
Kyoto gets creative with green tea powder, or Matcha-flavored treats, and the green tea Kit-Kats are excellent! Keep it fun in Mt. Fuji with a box of Mt. Fuji shaped cookies, or get traditional with the local area’s fruit-flavored snacks according to the season. Just remember to shop smart and find treats that pack and travel well!
Who Should I Buy Omiyage For?
Omiyage gifts are for those you’re close to who “couldn’t make the trip”, so this could include anyone in your group of family or friends, as well as co-workers. Keep in mind the amount of recipients and your suitcase space. It’s even suggested to bring an unpacked duffel bag which can be filled with your gifts on the way home.
Where Can I Find Omiyage Gifts In Japan?
It’s very common for almost all tourist shops in Japan to be full of bright and colorful packages of local treats and sweets. They typically come in small, boxed portions, as you traditionally have to buy quite a few, and they have to make the trip back with you! In each Japanese area you visit, peek into these local shops and find an Omiyage gift that speaks to you, and to whomever you’re giving it to, typically there are many to choose from.
Omiyage is a wonderful tradition that shows your loved ones that you were thinking of them, even when you’re traveling the globe. Though strictly a Japanese tradition, Omiyage can be incorporated into your travels anywhere you go! Seek out little shops as you venture out in any city and peruse the local goods and wares. If not sweets or cookies, maybe a handmade bracelet or carved trinket, for example, would be a much loved gift. Find what speaks to you and your loved ones, and start a gift-giving tradition of your own, it will endear you to your travels and be appreciated by all!