When to give omiyage, how to give omiyage, and who to give omiyage to – here is TLS’s guide

In Japan, gift-giving is somewhat of an art form, deeply rooted in tradition and profound cultural significance. Before you bring back any souvenirs for your workplace or classmates, you should consider what to bring, who to gift it to, and how many of the gift you should bring.

Souvenirs are known as “omiyage (お土産 )” in Japan, and the tradition captures the essence of Japanese hospitality, respect, and thoughtfulness.

It is important to understand the nuances of gift-giving in Japan so that you don’t embarrass yourself, and this blog will cover everything you need to know.

What is the difference between a souvenir and omiyage?

Souvenir – Western people basically bring back a gift from their trip to serve as a memento of the trip. These can be snacks, or trinkets like magnets.

Omiyage – While omiyage are also small gifts that usually originate from the region the person has been to, it is more about the act of gift giving rather than the actual gift. It’s almost a compulsory thing to do if you wish to remain looked upon positively by your colleagues.

Who should you give omiyage to?

You can bring omiyage to friends and family, this is optional and a nice thing to do. Especially if living in the countryside, an omiyage given to a neighbour may mean they present you with fresh vegetables from their garden in return, for example.

You SHOULD bring omiyage to your coworkers. In Japan they see taking a trip as “inconveniencing” the others, so you bring omiyage to say thank you for covering for me while I was gone. You should make sure there is enough for everyone in the office. If you have taken a trip and don’t bring anything back, people may see it as disrespectful.

Note that this also applies to business trips if they are a significant length.

If you are a student, it’s a nice gesture to bring a gift for your teachers. This will show them that you understand the Japanese culture well!

When should you bring omiyage?

The obvious answer is after a holiday. Other situations where you should bring omiyage are:

After business trips

Everyone in the office knows you went away, so you can’t get away with not doing bringing back a small snack from whereever you went.

Ochugen (お中元) – Summer gift giving

Companies will often give gifts to clients and partners, while staff may exchange gifts and give to their superiors. Summer fruits are especially popular. This is not compulsory; you can avoid this if you wish.

Oseibo (お歳暮) – End of year gifts

New Year’s is a big thing in Japan, and most companies and schools will have year-end parties. You can give a small gift to colleagues and your manager, or your teachers, if you choose. In this situation, perhaps a nice homemade sweet from your country is a good idea.

Visiting an office in another area

If you visit another office or client, or school, outside your prefecture, it is a good idea to bring a snack from your area as a courtesy gift. For example, if you were from Tochigi you might bring strawberries.

How should you give omiyage in the workplace?

When you gift omiyage in a business context, you can say “Itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu. Omiyage desu. (いつもお世話になっております。 お土産です。)”, meaning “thank you for always supporting me, here is omiyage”. This is the normal thing people say in this situation and can be a good practice for you with using Japanese phrases that might sound too formal to you but that are totally normal in Japan.

If that doesn’t quite work, you can try “douzo meshiagatte kudasai (どうぞ召し上がってください)”. This means “Here is this edible omiyage I have brought for you all, go ahead and try”.

Don’t forget to hand over the present with two hands, which shows respect. Some people prefer to bring a big box of something edible, and just leave it in the communal area so that people can take one without the pressure of being watched. If you do this, make sure to open the box so that it’s obvious that people can take freely, otherwise it may sit around for a long time as no one will want to be the person who opens it.

If you are worried about making a faux pas in your Japanese workplace, friendship group or school, then you may want to consider a language course which incorporates not only language but also cultural aspects and explanations. All of the courses at TLS can provide you with the cultural knowledge you need to feel confident in Japan.

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