Wednesday, December 8, 2010
What’s the most important part of taking a trip? Is it the sights and attractions? Local festivals and events? Unique cuisine? Indeed, all are important but it may be of interest to you that in Japan, acquiring omiyage (souvenirs) is high on the list. In many cases, some may even say that it’s the most important thing to remember while away.
This is because the culture of gift giving is extremely important in Japanese culture. Certain social and business protocols dictate that gifts are to be exchanged. Partnerships with new clients require some form of gift exchange. Likewise does catching up with friends, family and workmates after even a short trip away.
It’s not necessarily the gift that is important but the gesture itself. Most souvenirs found in Japanese cities and towns tend to be small, relatively inexpensive snacks or nick-knacks. Popular types include manju (a soft dough cake with perhaps a sweet bean paste filling) and varieties of mochi (glutinous rice flour cakes).
Because of its place in the culture, the souvenir trade in Japan is worth millions. Each town in Japan knows the importance of having a local specialty to peddle to visitors. Even if there isn’t a distinguishing product, a town will make one. For instance, did you know that the recommended souvenir snack of Tokyo is the Tokyo Banana (a banana shaped and flavored cream cake/cookie)?
You can’t leave town without buying the local specialties and recommended foods. Most Japanese people travelling within Japan will stock up on goodies for their friends, family, colleagues and even boss. This tradition extends to international travel too. Some Japanese tourists to foreign countries even state a particular product or food as their reason for going. Such travelers are usually expected to bring samples of the product back as a souvenir. A few years ago when there was only one Krispy Kremes store in all of Japan, Japanese visitors to the USA were flying back with cases of donuts. Fortunately, there are a lot more Krispy Kreme stores in Japan these days.
So if you’re coming to Japan for the first time, remember to bring an assortment of goods for souvenirs. If you live in Japan and are going to travel domestically, do not forget your all important omiyage!