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!