Omiyage is a souvenir to bring back from a trip for family, friends, and colleagues at home. Simply put, it's a souvenir, but with intrinsic Japanese culture infused into it.
Oh, that's Omiyage!
The concept of Omiyage finally sunk in on me during our last trip to Japan, in between tearing the beautifully wrapped things I bought and rearranging them into my jam-packed luggage. I got a flashback of the last Omiyage scene I saw before, on Tokyo's Midnight Diner TV show, where an editor brought back an Omiyage for the author she had been working with.
An Omiyage is usually presented to others in a beautiful wrapping, either paper or a special cloth called Furoshiki.
Furoshiki is a Japanese fabric wrapping used to wrap food and gifts. I bought a few furoshiki from Japan mount Fuji gift shop, which I gifted to my parents and aunties, without knowing it's essentially a wrapper, not a gift by itself. But with a few trips to Japan so far, I think I have bought a few omiyage, without knowing that those things were in fact Omiyage. There were Dorayaki cakes in a glass box, Omamori, chopsticks and chopstick holders.
Ever since I grasped the idea behind Omiyage in Japanese culture, I kept seeing it everywhere we went to in Japan.
From my experience, I understand that the Japanese treat the Omiyage culture seriously. A customary, it symbolizes both respect and appreciation, among other things.
There are rules surrounding the Omiyage culture, including bringing back something that's locally made from the place you travel to. And one can end up spending a lot of time, effort and sometimes, money to pick the right Omiyage for people back home. By people, it's not only your loved ones, but people who you interact with on a daily basis, including your colleagues.
Most of the main train stations had more than a few Omiyage shops, where they sold gorgeously wrapped food items and knickknacks. On top of that, different cities have their own mascots, different regions (Omiyage list based on the region) have their own famous local produce, giving visitors an additional variety of Omiyage to bring back home.
Like Kuidaore Taro, Osaka's most famous clown, whose face is plastered on every possible item in a souvenir store in Dotonbori.
And don't get me started on the Omiyage shop in the Narita airport, all those edible souvenirs looked so tempting. We ended up with two big bags of Omiyage.
Indonesia Omiyage Culture
Interesting fact, Indonesia shares the souvenir-giving culture in Japan. In the Indonesian language, we called it Oleh Oleh. And we say things like, "I have some oleh-oleh for you," and "don't forget to bring back oleh-oleh!" to our loved ones.
Having grown up in Indonesia, I understand the importance of this travel souvenir gift-giving tradition and would allocate some time and money to bring back souvenirs for my loved ones whenever I travel.
I still hold the tradition when I lived in Singapore for almost a decade where I share and get Omiyage from my colleagues and friends whenever we travel.
Australia Omiyage Culture
I must say though, I no longer hold the Omiyage tradition as sacredly as before, especially since I moved to Australia.
The Omiyage culture is almost nonexistent here. In the office, if there is an Omiyage being distributed, it's usually from an Asian colleague, myself included, who has just come back from a trip or they went back to their hometown.
This doesn't mean that I am going to abandon the Omiyage culture completely in the future. I know that even though it's not part of Australian culture, Omiyage will be appreciated. And I like to share things with my colleagues and it's nice to be on the receiving end too. Even though I don't expect them to get me anything, it has always been nice to try another place's delicacy or foreign snack.
My favorite one so far was Taiwanese pineapple tart.
Minimalist Omiyage Culture
I remember my dad's advice on my first big trip years ago, he said not to spend any money on souvenirs, rather use it wisely on experience and trying local food.
Now I have found the middle ground of navigating the Omiyage culture. These days I only bring back perishable Omiyage, something for my loved ones, colleagues and myself to finish.
If not perishable, I keep the other Omiyage purchases strictly fridge magnets and postcards whenever possible. There is an exception to the rule when it comes to my parents; Mom usually gets something pretty while I always try my best to give dad a little art from wherever I travel.
I also trained myself to come back Omiyage-less from a few travel trips. Usually, because I either don't have time, budget, energy or space for it. It wasn't easy, believe me when I say I truly enjoy choosing and buying things for my loved ones, but it has been a good practice. Lastly, more than anything, I really don't want to waste resources by bringing back an Omiyage or Oleh-Oleh which doesn't bring any value or joy to the people back home.