Many of us give gifts only on birthdays and other special occasions. Oftentimes, we also forgive those who forget them when we’re on the receiving end.
But fly to Japan, where a unique tradition of obligatory gift-giving is commonplace. It’s called the “omiyage” culture.
Omiyage literally means “souvenir.” However, in the Japanese context, the word is tied to the idea of buying something from a trip for people back home — family, friends, coworkers, classmates, you name it. Remember: it’s not for yourself.
What makes omiyage particularly interesting is the fact that it’s customary. For example, you can’t just show up to work without anything for your colleagues when they all know you went somewhere, especially out of the country.
Locally, omiyage also represents certain delicacies of different Japanese regions. According to Zooming Japan, it proves that one has been to a certain region and gives the receiver a chance to try such product unique to the place.
Blogger and comic book artist Grace Buchele Mineta is just one of many who saw how serious the Japanese are about omiyage. She shared her experience with a friend over GaijinPot:
“I went to Kamakura with a Japanese friend. We spent a bit of time looking at the various shrines and temples, but she couldn’t relax until we made a pit-stop at an omiyage shop so she could pick out gifts for her coworkers.”
Apparently, that was just the beginning:
“We ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time in that shop, as she browsed through endless boxes, trying to find the perfect omiyage with just the amount of sweets, the correct portion size and price for her office.”
These omiyage boxes are often brightly-colored, with contents that are perfectly portioned for sharing.
The exact origin of omiyage is unknown, but Yuichiro Suzuki, author of “Omiyage and the Railway”, suggests looking at Shinto shrines. He told Yahoo! Japan (via RocketNews24):
“The origin of omiyage is unclear, but it is thought that the custom began in association with sacred pilgrimages. Those who visited Shinto shrines were expected to bring back evidence of the pilgrimage to their families in the form of charms, rice wine cups, or other religiously significant items. It was thought that the protection granted to pilgrims would be transferred to whoever received the items brought back from the sacred trip. This is said to be the beginning of omiyage.”
What do you think of Japan’s omiyage culture?