Omiyage is the Japanese custom of gift giving. It is usually a souvenir from your travels or from your home town.
For the office worker who goes on an out of town trip, usually a box of the local delicacy is the most common omiyage. I used to travel throughout Japan, and at the town’s local train station, we would pick up a box of manju, cookies, rice crackers or candies that could be shared in the office. Because they make it so convenient, there really is no excuse to go back to the office empty handed. And because everyone does it all the time, it’s not really something you think about. You just do it.
However, in the U.S. it doesn’t work that way. We Japanese are used to bringing things over to friend’s homes to snack on or to try. It’s no big deal. But, because it isn’t commonly practiced in the states, I do it mostly with my Asian friends. Sometimes, American’s don’t feel comfortable with all this gift giving business. But, I don’t think that’s anything to worry about because for the Japanese it’s just a cultural thing and we feel comfortable doing it.
Food is the most common omiyage. Because of this tradition, I think Japanese are quite innovative and adventurous in their eating habits. They are not afraid to try anything and are generally very curious about food. Each time my mother goes to Japan she brings back something new to try and it’s so interesting to see what they come up with. The last time she gave me a bag of brown powder – it was stock made out of onion skins! Haven’t tried it yet, but I was thinking it would be wonderful in soups and stews. And they always seem to have a new flavored snack – like the caramel milk Pocky!
So my problem is when I go home to Hawaii, I can’t think of much to bring. It has to be something that you can’t get there or something unusual is preferred. When my sister came in July, we went to Theo’s Chocolate to see if we could do their Chocolate factory tour. Unfortunately, it was booked during her visit. We ended up getting a variety of unusual flavored chocolate bars. For those needing an omiyage to bring home check out their Coconut Curry chocolate bar. Yes, you read that right – curry! It actually has a strong curry flavor and works really well with chocolate. Now this would make any Japanese person very happy!
If you have any good omiyage ideas for those from the States going to Japan, please let me know!