Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souvenir & Gift-Giving Culture

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souvenir & Gift-Giving Culture

Have you heard of omiyage (お土産)? If you’ve been to Japan, then you have probably seen the colourful and beautifully packaged boxes of local confectionery filling the gift shops along streets and train stations.

 

Concept of omiyage gift-giving

Although the word "omiyage" is translated as "souvenir" in English, in Japan, the concept is slightly different from what you may think. Typically, souvenirs are something you bring back as a memento from your trip, but omiyage specifically refers to souvenirs that you bring back to give to the people who you left behind and did not travel with, be it your family members, friends, or colleagues. 

 

Omiyage are gifts for people back homeOmiyage are gifts you bring back for others | Photo by photoAC

Gift-giving is such a significant part of Japanese culture, playing an important part in maintaining good relationships with those around you. Depending on the occasion or time of year, there are many different types of gift-giving, and omiyage is just one of them. Bringing back omiyage is a show of thought and appreciation for the people you left behind.

 

8 March is Omiyage Day or Miyage-no-hi
March 8 is Miyage-no-hi or Omiyage Day! | Photo by photoAC

Did you know? Omiyage even has its own special day! March 8 is Miyage-no-hi (みやげの日), as "mi" sounds like the word for "three", while "ya" sounds like the word for "eight". This special day was started in 2000 to increase the demand for tourism and souvenirs. 

 

Origins of omiyage

While it has gotten easier to travel around with the advent of modern technology and innovation, in the past it was difficult to visit places outside your village. It is believed that the tradition of omiyage gift-giving originated from the days of religious pilgrimages, where people would travel to far off shrines and bring back religious items like talismans or protective amulets for their fellow villagers.

 

Omiyage gift-giving is said to have originated in the days of religious pilgrimages in Japan
Omiyage gift-giving is said to have originated in the days of religious pilgrimages in Japan | Photo by Carissa Loh

The word "miyage" is said to have come from "miyake" (宮笥), which was a board where talismans received from shrines were pasted on. In the past, it was believed that pilgrims would buy back miyake for their fellow villagers. Gradually, shops nearby the shrines started selling local specialties to cater to these visiting pilgrims. Initially, these local specialties were referred to as "miyage" (みやげ), but later took on the kanji characters "miyage" (土産), with "o" added to the front as an honorific prefix.

 

What makes a good omiyage?

Many major train stations in Japan have omiyage stores or souvenir stores
Many major train stations in Japan have omiyage stores | Photo by photoAC

In modern times, the kanji characters used for "miyage" literally mean "local produce". Thus, it is important to keep in mind that omiyage are meant to be representative of the place they are from

 

 

Confectionery and Snacks

They say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, so it should not be a surprise that the most popular form of omiyage are things to eat: food items such as confectionery and snacks.

 

Visiting Japan and thinking of what to buy? Omiyage confectionery like are a perennial favourite
Omiyage confectionery are a perennial favourite amongst Japan-goers | Photos by Carissa Loh

From Jaga Pokkuru potato snacks from Hokkaido, to Amao strawberry chocolates from Fukuoka Prefecture, to akabeko-shaped cookies from Fukushima Prefecture, these food items are commonly made with ingredients that are locally produced in the region they are from, made in shapes of items representative of the region they are from, packaged in motifs representative of the region they are from, or have limited edition flavours and packaging.

Many of these confectionery and snacks are perfectly packaged to be given away, with items individually wrapped inside the boxes for easy distribution among colleagues and friends.

 

"What are some of the best souvenirs to buy in Japan?"

Shiroi Koibito is a delicious chocolate cookie sandwich from Hokkaido, a region famous for its dairy produce
Shiroi Koibito is a popular omiyage confectionery from Hokkaido that is well-liked by receivers | Photo by kawanet (
CC BY 2.0

 

If you have been to Japan, you might have heard of these―in a poll conducted by LINE (Japan’s most popular messaging application) in 2021, the top five most liked omiyage confectionery were:

  1. Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人) from Hokkaido 
  2. Yatsuhashi (八つ橋) from Kyoto
  3. Momiji Manju (もみじ饅頭) from Hiroshima
  4. Nagasaki Castella (長崎カステラ) from Nagasaki
  5. Tokyo Banana (東京ばな奈) from Tokyo

 

Handicrafts

Japan has 47 prefectures and over 1,700 municipalities, and each has their own unique traditions and unique characteristics. If there is someone you are extra thankful for, or someone you really love, how about gifting them a specially crafted local item? 

 

Kogin zashi embroidered handicrafts in the shape of coasters and pins from JapanKogin zashi embroidered handicrafts | Photo by photoAC

From the kogin zashi (こぎん刺し) embroidery of Aomori Prefecture’s Tsugaru district, to the Kaga yuzen (加賀友禅) silk-dyeing of Ishikawa Prefecture’s Kanazawa City, to the Echizen takeningyo bamboo dolls (越前竹人形) of Fukui Prefecture, these local handicrafts represent the history and tradition of the places they are from, and make excellent omiyage

Handicrafts also represent the effort put in by the craftsman in making the item, as well as effort put in by the gift-giver in acquiring the item. For something even more special, how about crafting the items yourself? Killing two birds with one stone, you get a fun time experiencing the local crafts, and the person receiving the item gets a one-of-a-kind souvenir!

 

Omiyage Snack Box from JAPAN RAIL CLUB

Tasty Tohoku Treats Omiyage Snack Box by JAPAN RAIL CLUB

Speaking of gift-giving, why not treat your loved ones to an Omiyage Snack Box from JAPAN RAIL CLUB! With a different season and theme featured every month, you can expect to receive an exciting variety of Japanese snacks from all over Japan, shipped to your doorstep at the comforts of your home. Each snack is handpicked and curated by our local staff from Japan, each with its own rich history and stories to share with every snack enthusiast.

This March 2024, our Omiyage Snack Box introduces tasty and tantalising treats from the northeastern region of Tohoku, as well as a special feature on the one of the winners of the Omiyage Grand Prix 2023, an annual souvenir award ceremony held by Japan's largest railway company, JR East. 

From delicious soy-glazed rice crackers of Akita, to authentic chestnut sandwich cookies from Nagano, subscribe today to experience by the unique flavours of East Japan! For a limited time, enjoy a 20% discount when you subscribe to a 6-month plan on our Omiyage Snack Box—simply apply the promo code "TTT20" at checkout. Happy snacking!

Meet the author

Carissa Loh

Having visited all 47 prefectures of Japan, Carissa's next goal in life is to ride all of Japan's sightseeing trains and climb all its 100 Famous Mountains. Sounds like a dream? Check back in 50 years.

Hungry for more?

Get on track with our monthly offerings of exclusive snacks from all over Japan!

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Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in A...

Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are flowers symbolic of spring, often alluded to the promise of a new beginning in many Japanese literature. | Photo by Dawn Sim   A symbol...

Dawn Sim Spring

Spring Beginnings: 7 Things to Do in Japan in A...

Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are flowers symbolic of spring, often alluded to the promise of...

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in Japan
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in J...

Spring in Japan is a time for celebration as the season marks new beginnings. Other than the mesmerising cherry blossoms painting the landscape, spring is the best season to experience...

Wendy Ng Food

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Try Spring Foods in J...

Spring in Japan is a time for celebration as the season marks new beginnings. Other...

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festivals in Japan
Sue Lynn

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festival...

Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)   Spring is a season of new beginnings, bringing with it beautiful flowers, comfortable temperatures, and a time of celebration. While most travellers head...

Carissa Loh Festival

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festival...

Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)   Spring is a season of new beginnings, bringing...

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in Japan
Sue Lynn

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in ...

Matsue Castle in spring. | Photo by 島根県観光連盟 Japan, a nation celebrated for its rich history and enduring cultural heritage, is particularly famous for its magnificent Japanese castles (お城 oshiro)....

Carissa Loh Culture

Castle Day (6 April): 10 Must-Visit Castles in ...

Matsue Castle in spring. | Photo by 島根県観光連盟 Japan, a nation celebrated for its rich...

Sakura Karinto and Marui Suzuki
Sue Lynn

Maker’s Story: Seasonal Karinto Snacks from Tok...

April marks the official arrival of spring in Japan, and one of the cherished traditions of celebrating this season is to enjoy “ohanami” (お花見)! Ohanami means “flower-viewing”, and this is...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

Maker’s Story: Seasonal Karinto Snacks from Tok...

April marks the official arrival of spring in Japan, and one of the cherished traditions...

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blossom Viewing Spots in Northeast Japan
Sue Lynn

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blosso...

Hirosaki Castle Park | Photo by Aomori Prefecture Cherry blossoms or sakura (桜) herald the start of springtime in Japan. Spring is the prettiest and most enjoyable season with radiant...

Wendy Ng Spring

A Guide to Sakura in Tohoku: Best Cherry Blosso...

Hirosaki Castle Park | Photo by Aomori Prefecture Cherry blossoms or sakura (桜) herald the...

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of Shochu Distilleries in Miyazaki
Sue Lynn

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of S...

Shochu (焼酎) is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Japan and the Japanese drink more shochu than sake. Considered to be Japan's national spirit, Shochu is gaining great...

Wendy Ng

A Guide to Japanese Shochu: A Tasting Tour of S...

Shochu (焼酎) is one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages in Japan and the Japanese...

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultural Icons
Sue Lynn

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultura...

Statues of the Namahage located in Oga Peninsula. | Photo by PhotoAC Steeped in tradition, Tohoku (東北), the northeastern part of Japan comprising of six prefectures – Aomori (青森), Akita...

Dawn Sim Culture

Tohoku: A Tale of Tradition through its Cultura...

Statues of the Namahage located in Oga Peninsula. | Photo by PhotoAC Steeped in tradition,...

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from Northeast Japan
Sue Lynn

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from North...

Japan is a food paradise and beyond the major cities and well-trodden travel routes, you can unearth more culinary treasures spread throughout the country if you venture into the less...

Wendy Ng Food

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Try Food from North...

Japan is a food paradise and beyond the major cities and well-trodden travel routes, you...

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots in Tokyo for Ohanami
Sue Lynn

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots ...

If you have visited Tokyo between late March and early April, then chances are you have witnessed the enchanting sight of cherry blossoms (桜 sakura) in full bloom. A cherry...

Carissa Loh Culture

Sakura 2024: 5 Must-Visit Cherry Blossom Spots ...

If you have visited Tokyo between late March and early April, then chances are you...

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from Tohoku
Sue Lynn

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from ...

Located on the north-eastern part of mainland Japan, Tohoku (東北) is made up of six prefectures, and is a treasure trove of beautiful nature and fascinating history. It’s a wonderful...

Carissa Loh Food

Tasty Tohoku Treats: 6 Must-Buy Souvenirs from ...

Located on the north-eastern part of mainland Japan, Tohoku (東北) is made up of six...

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souvenir & Gift-Giving Culture
Sue Lynn

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souven...

Have you heard of omiyage (お土産)? If you’ve been to Japan, then you have probably seen the colourful and beautifully packaged boxes of local confectionery filling the gift shops along...

Carissa Loh Culture

Omiyage Day (8 March): Exploring Japan's Souven...

Have you heard of omiyage (お土産)? If you’ve been to Japan, then you have probably...

March Maker's Story: Hand-grilled Rice Crackers from Akita by Kanaeya
Sue Lynn

March Maker's Story: Hand-grilled Rice Crackers...

The Tohoku Region is home to some of Japan’s best untouched nature. Take Akita as an example, a prefecture where lush landscapes meet premium rice fields. Renowned for its exceptional...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

March Maker's Story: Hand-grilled Rice Crackers...

The Tohoku Region is home to some of Japan’s best untouched nature. Take Akita as...

March Maker’s Story: Obuse Chestnut Snacks from Takachiho (Winner of JR East Omiyage Grand Prix 2023 - Koshin’etsu Area Prize)
Sue Lynn

March Maker’s Story: Obuse Chestnut Snacks from...

If you have been to Japan, you will understand the universal struggle of finding the perfect souvenir or omiyage (お土産) to bring home for your loved ones and colleagues. While...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

March Maker’s Story: Obuse Chestnut Snacks from...

If you have been to Japan, you will understand the universal struggle of finding the...

Hina Matsuri (3 March): Japan’s Spring Festival Celebrating Girls’ Day
Sue Lynn

Hina Matsuri (3 March): Japan’s Spring Festival...

Displaying exquisitely made hina-ningyo dressed in traditional Heian attire is the main activity associated with the Hina Matsuri | ©photoAC Have you ever heard of Japan’s Hina Matsuri (雛祭)? Otherwise known...

Dawn Sim Culture

Hina Matsuri (3 March): Japan’s Spring Festival...

Displaying exquisitely made hina-ningyo dressed in traditional Heian attire is the main activity associated with the...

Inspired by Izu: Exploring Izu Peninsula Through The Eyes of Japanese Writers
Sue Lynn

Inspired by Izu: Exploring Izu Peninsula Throug...

If you are a fan of Japanese literature, take a walk in the footsteps of literary giants and look no further than Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島), which lies just about 1-2...

Dawn Sim Travel

Inspired by Izu: Exploring Izu Peninsula Throug...

If you are a fan of Japanese literature, take a walk in the footsteps of...

Mount Fuji with tea plantation in the foreground
Sue Lynn

Mount Fuji Day (23 February): 5 Ways to Enjoy J...

Standing at 3,776m above sea level, the almost perfectly symmetrical Mount Fuji (富士山 Fujisan) is Japan’s highest mountain, and has become a symbol of the country, recognised worldwide for its...

Carissa Loh Travel

Mount Fuji Day (23 February): 5 Ways to Enjoy J...

Standing at 3,776m above sea level, the almost perfectly symmetrical Mount Fuji (富士山 Fujisan) is...

Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in Japan to Meet Feline Friends
Sue Lynn

Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in J...

Are you a cat (猫 neko) lover? If you’ve been to Japan, you might have noticed how beloved cats are over there. Think maneki-neko (招き猫) cat figurines that beckon luck,...

Carissa Loh Culture

Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in J...

Are you a cat (猫 neko) lover? If you’ve been to Japan, you might have...

In the Mood for Love: Romancing on Valentine’s Day in Japan
Sue Lynn

In the Mood for Love: Romancing on Valentine’s ...

Love is in the air in February with Valentine’s Day! On 14 February, Valentine’s Day is universally celebrated across the globe where presents like chocolates, candies, and flowers are gifted...

Wendy Ng Culture

In the Mood for Love: Romancing on Valentine’s ...

Love is in the air in February with Valentine’s Day! On 14 February, Valentine’s Day...

Romance Izu in the Air: 5 Romantic Spots in the Izu Peninsula
Sue Lynn

Romance Izu in the Air: 5 Romantic Spots in the...

With so many captivating attractions, you can spend days exploring the Izu Peninsula with your loved one, but where to start? Here are our top five picks for romantic dating...

Carissa Loh Travel

Romance Izu in the Air: 5 Romantic Spots in the...

With so many captivating attractions, you can spend days exploring the Izu Peninsula with your...

A Side Trip to Saitama: Discovering “Little Edo”, Cafes, and the Railway Museum
Sue Lynn

A Side Trip to Saitama: Discovering “Little Edo...

Located just about half an hour north of Central Tokyo, Ōmiya Station (大宮駅 Ōmiya-eki) is the gateway to the neighbouring Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県). It is also a stop on more...

JAPANKURU Travel

A Side Trip to Saitama: Discovering “Little Edo...

Located just about half an hour north of Central Tokyo, Ōmiya Station (大宮駅 Ōmiya-eki) is...