When I was accepted onto the JET Programme, I had a tonne of preparation to do before I left. Most of it ended up involving lots of shopping trips with my family, spending time with my friends and cuddling my dog. But one of the biggest mind-boggling aspects that I was really worried about was “omiyage” – what souvenirs from home should I bring to my new job as a token of gratitude?
As many prospective JET participants do, I spent a tonne of time researching on the internet and asking current JETs what they brought as omiyage. I heard A LOT of conflicting ideas from bringing expensive gifts, to not bringing gifts at all. Personally, I didn’t want to go for the latter, because even if people didn’t like or want what I decided to bring, I figured no one would dislike me for a kind gesture! Japan is a society which places a lot of consideration on gift giving – no matter how small the gift, it will be appreciated along with the thought.
A general consensus seemed to suggest small, unique to your home town and edible. Based on my experiences of Japanese omiyage from my co-workers, I vouch for this notion!
Japanese omiyage is fantastic. Every week, I return to my desk and there is a small pile of omiyage from teachers who have traveled to a different prefecture or city – they always bring back something special from the region. Each region has it’s own unique omiyage and it is usually a big talking point – people get excited for me to try the new things and always tell me about what they have brought back! Some of my favourite omiyage so far includes:
- Castella from Nagasaki
- Sweet potato Daifuku from Kumamoto
- Mini flavoured Mochi from Okayama
- Manjuu from Hiroshima
Omiyage is available EVERYWHERE. So many shops sell them, some being purely dedicated to selling their own! Usually, you can buy them in boxes varying from 3-4 pieces, all the way up to 15+. Prices vary too, depending how fancy you want to go. It can get a little expensive, for example I work at 2 schools with 40+ people in each office. So unless it’s a big trip, I usually only buy for my JTEs or just the first year teachers (一年生）
When I first came to Japan last year, I decided to make my own “pic’n’mix” organza bags for all the teachers. I put in some British favourites including strawberry bonbons, sherbet lemons, humbugs and some fudge. I left a little bag on each teacher’s desk, and in the communal area I left a box of English Breakfast tea with a postcard next to it with a message written in both English and my best attempt at a greeting in Japanese! It was a great ice breaker – lots of teachers came up and thanked me, asked about the sweets and got excited over the tea. Whether most people liked the sweets or not, I’ll never really know – people here are way too polite to say, but the gesture was received with plenty of gratitude and warmth.
So overall, I’m glad I brought omiyage when I first arrived, and whenever I return to the UK I will bring something different back – after Christmas I brought a big box of Celebrations which disappeared after seconds. And of course – more tea. EVERYONE here loves a cup of tea, or good coffee. Can’t really go wrong there..
Feel free to share your omiyage stories! What did you bring when you came to Japan? Or what do you plan to bring, if you’re coming in the future?