Let's learn how to give omiyage
Japan has a unique culture of gift giving; it’s “Omiyage culture.”
What is “Omiyage”? Japan’s Souvenir Giving Culture
If you give omiyage to your co-workers, host family, boss, or your friends, you want to be polite and proper, right?
For whom should I buy Omiyage? What should I pick for Omiyage? How should I present Omiyage?
If you have these questions, you are in the right place now. Taking part in omiyage culture starts before actually presenting omiyage: it starts from making a list of people for whom you will buy omiyage.
This is a guide of how to give omiyage. If you follow the guide and keep keep some phrases and etiquette in mind, you won’t fail. The receivers will appreciate your omiyage gifts.
1. Make a list of “Omiyage people”
The very first thing to do is list up whom to buy omiyage. It is a very important step to make your “giving omiyage experience” smooth. Making this list ensures that you don’t forget someone, and doesn’t panic you at the last minute before having a flight back. It is better to make this list before your trip starts.
Here are typical types of people for whom you can consider buying omiyage depending on the situation.
Homestay in Japan: Host family. If you go to local school, it is better to prepare something you can share with your classmates and teachers.
Living in Japan: Friends, neighbors, workplace (bosses and co-workers). You don't necesarily buy omiyage for neighbors unless you are very close to them. In the case of workplace, keep in mind that it is not an obligation to buy omiyage. If nobody or only a few people buy omiyage, you don't have to get omiyage for your workplace.
Working as an English teacher at school: President, vice president, Japanese teachers of English
Business trip to Japan: Anyone you may interact with
Notice: if you are working in a large company, you don’t have to give omiyage to everyone working in your office (You could do it. But if you do that, you go bankrupt.). You can get omiyage which is big enough to go around in your department and boss. If you are going to a university in Japan, you can get omiyage just for close friends or those whom you are often interacting with. Remember that you don’t have to give omiyage to all the people if you belong to a large (50 or more people) organization.
2. Buy Omiyage
The second step is buying omiyage where your trip takes place. It is better to make an “Omiyage list,” which includes what you will buy for whom. Have a quick search for the famous/popular omiyage in the region and consider appropriate gifts. Even if you have no idea what to buy or you don’t have time to make the omiyage list, at least it is better to look up the local specialties in the area so that you won’t get at a loss at tourist shops.
The followings are tips for buying omiyage.
When should you buy omiyage?
-When you go somewhere special.
What does it mean by “special”? Somewhere “special” here means a place that takes more than one hour from your original place or that people around you cannot go to frequently. Let’s say you are working in Tokyo and you take a trip to Osaka. In this case, it seems good to buy omiyage because, for those who live in Tokyo, Osaka is not a place where they go often. Also, when you come to Japan for the first time, or you come back from your country, you should grab some gifts. But when you go to Asakusa, which takes about 30 minutes from the center of Tokyo, you don’t have to get omiyage.
What should you choose for Omiyage?
There are three things you want to keep in mind when picking omiyage.
-Something special to the region
Again, “special” is important in omiyage. Every region has some things that represent the place. For example, apples in Aomori, green tea (matcha) in Kyoto, crabs in Tottori, etc. Make sure to choose omiyage which is related to the local specialties so that the receivers can feel the essence of where you traveled.
-Not too expensive
Omiyage doesn’t have to be expensive. For one, you will be broke if you spend so much money for omiyage. For the other, people do not expect you to buy something expensive. Everyone understands that purchasing omiyage costs money. So, don’t be pressured to get something fancy.
-Shared by everyone
Omiyage is meant for sharing. Make sure that your omiyage is easy to be shared by everyone. If you buy omiyage for classmates/co-workers, pick large boxes of sweets or snacks with each sweet individually packaged.
Especially when you choose a gift for your workplace, keep in mind that it should be something that they can hold in one hand because someone would eat it while working. It is also important that the sweet is not covered by powdery or crumbly things because thoese ypes of sweets will make the desk and hands dirty.
A product usually comes in different pieces from 5 to 20, sometimes 30 or more. Be sure to check if the box contains enough pieces to give to everyone!
But if you give omiyage to a small group of people such as family or close friends, you might want to choose something different from what you give to large groups. It may be better to buy gifts that are meant just for them. In this case, omiyage doesn’t have to be food- pens, key chains, notebooks, accessories- something a little bit fancy will make an excellent gift for them.
Here are ideas you can refer to when choosing omiyage that either you take back from Japan or you can bring from your home country.
Where should you buy Omiyage?
You can buy omiyage anywhere. These are the typical places to look for omiyage.
Tourist shops, big train stations, and department stores are usually large. They tend to have almost all sorts of omiyage from the locale. If you are not sure what to buy, it seems good to firstly look around those shops to check what they have. Airports, small train stations, and hotels do sell omiyage, but they tend to have limited selections. If you have already decided what to buy or if you buy omiyage in a rush, those shops will be a good place.
3. How to Give Omiyage
Finally, you are back from your trip with omiyage. You have reached the final step of “giving omiyage experience.”
How to give omiyage to host family
When you present omiyage for host family, you don't have to be too formal. It will be good to give omiyage when all the family members get together so that they can open omiyage and have a talk about your trip. Giving omiyage to host family is like sharing your memories!
How to give omiyage to friends
When you give omiyage to your friends, also, you don't have to be formal. You can bring omiyage when you hang out with friends, and casually give the gift to them. You can talk about where you went, what you enjoyed, etc. when giving omiyage.
How to give omiyage to neigbors
When you give omiyage to neigbors, you want to be a little bit formal.
You isit the neigbors' places with omiyage. Make sure to visit when they at home. Even if they are out, don't put omiyage in the post or in front of the house. Visit again when they are at home. It will be polite if you call them beforehand to ask when you can visit their place.
Then, you give omiyage. If the item is in a paperbag, it is better to take it out so that the receiver can see what it is. Also, it is considered to be a good manner when giving a gift.
Make sure to visit the neighbor's place as soon as possible, at most within a month from when you came back. Especially when you bought food, it will be better to give it within one or two weeks so the receiver can enjoy it fresh and delicious.
How to give omiyage in a workplace
When you bought omiyage for your workplace, make sure to bring it the next time when you go to the office. Lunchtime is the best timing for giving omiyage because everyone is not busy, and they can eat it as a dessert.
How you share omiyage depends on the workplace, but the common way is giving the gift one by one. You firstly give it to your boss, and then give it to the colloeagues. It is better to tell them where you went. If someone is missing, put the omiyage on the desk with a note saying that it is from you.
Also, note that some people don’t open your omiyage on the spot. They probably take it back and open at home. So, don’t be offended if your gift is not opened right away.
Phrases you can use when giving omiyage
Even if you are not Japanese, it will be great to present omiyage with phrases used when presenting omiyage.
Japanese:＿＿＿＿のお土産です。( Where you went no omiyage desu.)
English: This omiyage is from Where you went.
Japanese:ほんの気持ちですが… (Honno kimochi desuga...)
English: It is a little gift, but...
Japanese: お気に召すと嬉しいのですが… (Okini mesuto ureshii no desuga...)
English: I hope you like it.
Japanese: どうぞ召し上がってください。(Douzo meshiagatte kudasai.)
Other than the how-to omiyage above, there are a couple of etiquettes you should keep in mind. Especially if you present omiyage in the business scene, this etiquette is very important.
1.Make sure to have the gift wrapped
Before you present omiyage, make sure it is wrapped. If you buy omiyage in Japan, most products already have a neat packaging, but if it doesn’t, wrap it so that your gift looks beautiful and presentable. A nice appearance of omiyage tells your consideration for the recipients.
2. Give with both hands
It is always nice to hold the gift with both hands. It shows your respect to the recipient(s).
3. Avoid the number of four and nine
In Japan, four and nine should be avoided because four is pronounced as “shi,” and it means “death” in Japanese. Also, nine is pronounced as “ku,” and it means “suffering.” The younger generations probably don’t care about it, but it will be better not to select anything in sets of four or nine.
4. Stay fresh for a long time
If you buy food omiyage, make sure to choose the one that lasts long and doesn’t need to be refrigerated because the recipients may not be able to finish up the food in a short period. Cookies, rice crackers, manju, or chocolate are the example of long-lasting food omiyage.
You are ready to give omiyage!
For those who are not Japanese, omiyage culture will take a little time to get used to. You may feel worried if you are properly taking part in omiyage culture.
It is great if you have a perfect omiyage experience by following the three steps presented above, but don’t be pressured so much. The most important thing in omiyage culture is to show your consideration for the others. The recipients will be happy when they feel your care.