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Omiyage: A Great Guide to Japanese Gifts!

Thalia HarrisThalia Harris
Published Time
Posted on 
May 21, 2024
A bunch of shisa lion figurines from Okinawa, a type of omiyage.

Omiyage is a cherished Japanese tradition that embodies the cultural values of thoughtfulness, hospitality, and sharing experiences. But what makes it unique, and why is it so popular?

What is Japanese omiyage?

In Japan, there’s a fantastic tradition called omiyage (おみやげ), which is all about bringing unique gifts back for people when they go somewhere! The word means “souvenir,” not just any souvenir.

Tokyo Banana snacks.
Omiyage is Japanese for “souvenir”. Image via Shutterstock

This idea started long ago when people would journey to unique religious places and bring back something blessed for their families. But now, it’s more about bringing back tasty treats from different parts of Japan to let your friends and family get a taste of where you’ve been. It’s a way of sharing your adventure with them!

Why is Japanese omiyage special?

When someone travels and brings back omiyage, they let everyone back home taste a bit of their adventure. It’s a way to make everyone feel connected and closer to each other. This tradition started because people believed that when you go on a trip, it’s thanks to the support of your family and friends. So, bringing back omiyage is a way to say “thank you” to them for helping make the trip possible.

A bunch of wood omiyage from Japan.
You can get most omiyage at train stations as well. Image via Shutterstock

What are some of the most popular omiyage?

Omiyage are special snacks or sweets from different parts of Japan, like Tokyo Bananas from Tokyo, shiroi koibito cookies from Hokkaido, or spicy fish-flavored crackers called mentaiko senbei from Fukuoka. These treats are usually wrapped separately, so you can easily hand them out to your friends and family because they’re meant for sharing. Let’s look at some other cool omiyage you might come across!

Snacks and sweets

Kit Kats are super cool in Japan because they come in over 300 flavors! You can find ones like matcha (green tea), strawberry cheesecake, and even special flavors you can only get in certain places. People love to get these unique Kit Kats as gifts because they let you taste the unique flavors of each area.

A box of Pocky, a type of omiyage from Japan.
Pocky is one of the most popular snacks from Japan. Image via Shutterstock

Pocky is another favorite gift to give. They’re these yummy biscuit sticks dipped in chocolate or other tasty coatings. Since they’re wrapped up individually, they’re perfect for sharing with your friends and family. Mochi, soft rice cakes filled with sweet red bean paste or other yummy flavors, are also popular. These treats show off the local food traditions.

And then there’s Okinawa‘s famous Beni-imo Tart, made from purple sweet potatoes, giving you a taste of what makes that region unique. All these snacks are not just tasty; they’re also wrapped up nicely, making them perfect gifts to bring back the unique flavors of Japan to your friends and family.

Are you looking for some great snacks that would make for amazing omiyage? Check out TokyoTreat! TokyoTreat delivers limited-edition Japanese noodles, snacks, drinks, and sweets right to your door so you can enjoy the latest treats directly from Japan!

When should I buy omiyage in Japan?

Buying omiyage, which are memorable souvenirs or gifts from Japan, is all about good timing and a bit of planning. There’s no set rule on when to buy them, but here are some tips to help you. It’s a good idea to wait until the end of your trip or after spending time in a place.

A bunch of blown glass vases from Japan.
Some of them can be ceramics as well. Image via Shutterstock

This way, you can pick things that show off what’s unique about where you’ve been. If you go to multiple cities, avoid buying omiyage until you’re at your last stop. This means you won’t have to lug around a bunch of packages while you’re traveling.

If you’re on a more extended trip and visiting many places, you might want to grab some omiyage from each big city or area to get a mix of cool stuff. Airports are accessible but not the best places for finding those unique gifts. Set aside enough time, like at least half a day, to look around shops so you can pick out the perfect gifts without rushing.

Where can I buy it?

Big train stations like Tokyo Station and Shinjuku Station have these underground shopping areas filled with stores where you can find omiyage from all over the country. It’s super convenient because you can find many different things in one spot.

If you love food, you’ve got to visit the basement food halls in department stores called depachika. They’re packed with fancy Japanese snacks and treats perfect for omiyage. You’ll find everything from local favorites to fancy stuff from different parts of Japan.

Head to Nakamise Street near Sensoji Temple in Asakusa for something more traditional. It’s lined with shops selling classic Japanese gifts and snacks. You can also check out the Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku for cool stuff like kimonos, ceramics, and fans.

A box of Japanese souvenirs.
It’s best to pick up souvenirs at the end of the trip. Image via Shutterstock

If you’re watching your budget, 100 yen shops like Daiso are awesome for finding affordable omiyage, from stationery to snacks. And if you’re into anime or games, places like the Pokémon Center are perfect for finding themed omiyage.

For last-minute shopping, remember drugstores like Matsumoto Kiyoshi. They have snacks and skincare products that make great omiyage. For deals, Ameyoko Market Street in Tokyo provides affordable snacks and souvenirs.

Is there any etiquette for giving souvenirs?

In Japan, when you give or get gifts, called omiyage, there are some special rules to show respect and care. When giving someone a gift, you should hand it over with both hands to show you mean it. Also, make sure to use the best gift wrap you can afford! But remember not to give anyone four of anything because the number four is considered bad luck there.

A bunch of dorayaki.
Have you ever had omiyage before? Image via Shutterstock

If someone tries to give you a gift, it’s polite to say no a couple of times before you accept it. This is just a way to be humble. When giving a gift, it’s good to say something like “It’s just a little something” or “I hope you like it” instead of saying how great the gift is. And if you can’t give a gift to everyone there, it’s better to give it when you’re alone with the person to keep things smooth.

When you receive a gift, take it with both hands and say “thank you” in Japanese, “arigatou gozaimasu.” It’s polite to wait and open your gift later when you’re alone. If someone gives you a gift, it’s nice to give something back later, called an “okaeshi.” This return gift should be about half the value of the original gift, and it’s a way to keep your friendship strong. Have you ever given or received an omiyage? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Thalia Harris

Writer living in Tokyo who likes stories, music and video games. <3

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