Omiyage (御土産 or お土産) are Japanese souvenir gifts travellers bring from their trips. Almost every destination in Japan has its own specialities in food, traditional art, crafts, etc. The omiyage industry built around gift-giving is huge and very lucrative. Japanese feel a strong obligation to bring such items as gifts not only for family members, but also relatives, neighbours, friends, and colleagues at work, school or university. Giving miyage is based on strict reciprocality: if one has received a gift in the past, one has an obligation to return a gift of similar quality or value. Also, when leaving for an extended trip, one often receives a farewell gift (餞別 senbetsu) from friends or relatives. Of course, the traveller is supposed to reciprocate with omiyage in return.
This custom and obligation explains why many Japanese tourists abroad appear to be busy buying souvenirs, sometimes even sacrificing their scarce time dedicated to sight-seeing. Due to its obligatory nature, buying omiyage often turns into a stressful burden, but such mutual obligations form the core of solidarity and cooperation in Japanese society.
Temiyage (手土産) on the other hand are gifts one takes when visiting friends or relatives. Temiyage usually consist of sweets, fruits, or other nonstaple foods. Whereas one makes a call specifically for the purpose of delivering omiyage, temiyage are given incidentally at most social calls.
Popular gifts for Japanese from visitors abroad include:
It is important to state that the gift-wrapping and the bag are almost as important as the gift itself.
- Sweets, the more “foreign” and famous the brand, the better; for ladies and children. Not recommended: liquorice and marzipan.
- Alcoholic beverages for the gentlemen, wine or a good bottle of spirits.
- Herbal tea and fruit tea for the ladies.