The word お土産 omiyage literally means gift, souvenir or remembrance. These small souvenirs or gifts are very important in Japanese culture and can be seen in thousands of shops in tourist spots across the country. As in everyone, these gifts are usually given on special dates or to return a favor, as a symbol of closeness and affection.
Omiyages are gifts that can be given at any time you wish, to friends, co-workers, relatives, etc. However, there are occasions when it is really necessary to take an omiyage, especially if you are visiting someone's home.
Omiyage is not a simple reminder, when you are visiting a person it is more than an obligation to take an omiyage. Giving gifts is part of an ancient samurai tradition called Giri (義理), which can be translated as 'social obligation'.
Types of Omiyage
There are several different occasions and types of omiyage that we can take. Let's see details of each one below:
Omiyage (お土産) - The main tradition is to bring memories of a trip to our relatives, friends and co-workers. Most of the time, a reminder of the place we visited.
Temiyage (手土产) - Whenever we go to visit someone, it is necessary to bring a gift. Most of the time it can be a food, candy, fruit and other edibles that you already find on sale as gifts. If you are going to visit a friend who lives far away, you can take something from the region where you live. There are no specific rules, you can take what you think is best as a gift.
Sashi-ire (差し入れ) - You can give an inventive gift to a friend who is going to perform a task or request for you. It can be food, tea, candy, etc. After your friend has done his task or favor, you can thank him with another gift that is called a Gawari Meishi (替わり名刺).
Omimai (お見舞い) - You can take gifts to a friend at the hospital. It can be magazines, books and mainly flowers, but be careful not to give a flower that represents death like lilies and camellias.
There are other occasions when you can give someone a gift like New Year, Valentine's Day, birthdays, when the person retires or changes jobs, or when a new neighbor moves into the neighborhood or a friend moves away. Gifts range from food to money in envelopes.
How to give the best gift?
Of course, you should know the person well and know what they will like, but most like food. Sweets and consumables are the most common and inexpensive omiyage. To give the best gift you must remember that the appearance of the gift is just as important as the gift itself. Japan is very fond of personalizing and decorating things, so the candy box or the packaging it is wrapped in should be considered important.
If you are going to travel to Japan, take souvenirs from your country instead of buying something local. You can also take branded things. If you live in Japan and are going to visit another region, you can take something typical of that region. For example, in Kyoto green tea is very popular, you can bring something that is related to green tea. In Okinawa we have sweet potatoes, Hiroshima the lemon and Hokkaido Cheese and milk. It will be easy to find a gift if you are visiting a tourist spot, the hard part will be choosing.
If you are unable, you can bring a post card with a stamp from a place you visited.
It doesn't matter if you are at an airport, in a small town, at a train station, temple, shrine, castle, park, building, garden or anywhere else in Japan. You will always have the opportunity to find omiyage to buy. Whenever you travel, don't forget to buy your souvenir.