There is a nice tradition here in Japan called Omiyage (oh-me-yah-gay), which is a gift that you bring back to coworkers, friends, and family upon returning from a trip. In the States, we have all manner of knick-knacks and chachkies that we can buy, but Japanese omiyage is a big industry, so the level of gift (usually food or food-related) can reach some pretty amazing levels.
When you travel, every prefecture, city, and area can have its own famous omiyage for you to purchase. Just like having a mascot, having a special omiyage seems to be a must for cities and prefectures serious about bringing in tourists. Omiyage usually have really nice boxes with individual servings pre-wrapped for your sharing convenience. They can be highly specialized local goods or more generic, widely available goods. You can get sweets, savories, beer, and more in each box. More generic boxes can be found at nice supermarkets, whereas the regional flavors and specialties tend to get their own shops near transit centers. Some supermarkets can also carry local specialties, so when in doubt, poke your head in!
Omiyage in Practice
In my office, I have often reaped the benefits of others’ travels, and it is great to see what everyone brings back. I’ve had pastries filled with red bean paste and beautifully shaped like leaves from Nagasaki as well as crackers shaped like spoons from another undisclosed location. What I get from the tradition of omiyage (aside from a tasty treat) is more of a sense of community in my office. Think about it: Which of your coworkers would bring you something back from a trip?
It’s a nice gesture that lets others know that they are thinking of you (even if it might be brought on by societal pressure and norms). As a foreigner experiencing this, I’d have to say I love it! I was able to bring home some tasty cookies from Kagoshima recently from a work trip. Finding the omiyage was quite stressful! My protip would be this: Don’t bother wasting too much time looking in the city for your gifts; wait until you are in the train station or the airport. They have entire stores dedicated to omiyage specialties from the region or city you’re in. If you’re flying, you can even carry it on the plane if you haven’t bumped up on your bag limit!
We usually let each other know that the omiyage is ready for the taking by leaving it in a common area and sending out an email, or by placing individual pieces from the larger box on everyone’s desks. It strikes me that I can find this gesture so personal and yet it’s so common here in Japan. I really like the idea!
What do you think? Would omiyage catch on in your workplace? Or have you received a gift from a traveling coworker that left a memory with you? Let me know in the comments below!