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Omiyage and Gift Giving in Japan: what kind of present do Japanese people like or expect?

Updated on December 31, 2012
The most common.  About 1 inch by 1 inch squares of cookie.
The most common. About 1 inch by 1 inch squares of cookie. | Source

So you're about to start a new job in Japan...

...and everyone's informed you that it's normal for a new hire to bring gifts. For your neighbors, coworkers, principals, etc. For everyone basically. But what should you bring as Omiyage for teachers? Most people who land a job in Japan are English teachers, many on the JET program. I will go over a few simple guidelines for gift giving for teachers in Japan. At the bottom, I list some American/European/Mexican products that I personally plan on bringing back next time.

It's a Low Bar

See the above image for an example of the type of omiyage you are likely to receive each week from your coworkers. They do not set a high standard. Omiyage is mandatory in Japan, and they treat it as such, buying the cheapest thing they can get away with. Which makes total sense. No one actually wants to spend their whole vacation picking out gifts for people in their office whom they barely speak to. Just buy a box of pre-wrapped cookies and be done with it.

Don't get anxious thinking that you should actually be trying to anticipate what people in Japan would like to receive from your hometown. Some guidelines talk about getting regional omiyage to represent where you're from. That's fine, but don't worry too much about it. Remember, ALTs come from many countries, so something unique to your country is "regional" as far as the Japanese are concerned. Americans may want to try for something "southern" or "western" but no one will remember your hometown in a week, so don't go crazy trying to find Reading, PA omiyage.

It's Always Food

For some reason, people feel the need to skirt this issue by saying things like

Omiyage is usually food, but anything is fine as long as it represents where you're from!

No. It is ALWAYS, 100%, food. And it doesn't have to represent jack. I brought nice polished seashells because I'm from a beach town, and got "Wtf is this?" looks before everyone steeled their faces into a glassy "Arigatougozaimasu!"

Bring food. Individually wrapped.

So, what is a good omiyage food? Let me tell you the one thing I wish more than anything I had brought....

The BEST omiyage.
The BEST omiyage. | Source

Hostess snack cakes. Sure they have some weird tastless knockoff version in Japan, but nothing can beat the pure Americanness of Twinkies and Swiss Rolls. Also, the chocolate cake here is terrible - so they would probably swoon over a Swiss Roll.

Omiyage I'm Going to Bring Back from Xmas Break:

  • swiss rolls
  • mint hot cocoa with marshmallows
  • cupcakes (buy mix and pan at home - make and put in teacher's lounge)
  • tortilla chips
  • individual packs of peanut butter or ranch dippers
  • flavored coffee creamer
  • easy mac

Some of you may say that they have peanut butter and hot cocoa in Japan - and I reply that it is NOT real cocoa or peanut butter. You *can* acquire these things if you look for them, but they are expensive and strange tasting. Also, they don't come in any flavors or variations, which I think is really interesting.

My ichiban bikkurishta (most surprised) thing when I got here was that there was no flavored coffee creamer. I never thought that creamer was important to me until it was gone. No one thinks to warn you about things like mushrooms and creamer (see my other page of "Things that you either can't get, or are ridiculously expensive in Japan") so I didn't plan ahead and bring any. I used to really love to wake up, choose whether I was in a mint, cinnamon spice, or irish cream mood, and have my morning coffee. I miss it and want to addict Japanese people to it until they bring it over here.

So basically I'm saying my omiyage have ulterior motives.


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    • profile image

      ddd 2 years ago

      Ew, twinkies are gross

    • Tealparadise profile image

      Tealparadise 5 years ago

      alocsin - They have Japanese versions of many things, but hostess brand I haven't seen. The Japanese versions of American foods are often.... "chigau" (different, maybe wrong) and when I am offered a "knockoff" it's frustrating to not be able to show them the "real" deal. (an ethnocentric viewpoint, but impossible for me to overcome)

      Yes, it's not the specialty items or rarities which one craves, because those can usually be made by hand. It's that processed prepacked junk which is impossible to replicate.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      An interesting custom and one unexpected by most Americans. It's funny that you crave the most common food here in the U.S. I assume that twinkies are available in Japan, but that it's pricey? Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 5 years ago from Houston TX

      the japanese people are good at making quality food stuffs and good diet snacks. i really wish i could get one. that's for the information.