Buying souvenirs and giving gifts is something that is commonly done around the world. When people travel or visit somewhere special, they often buy something to remember that day by. Some people also love to get something special for their friends and family who were not also on the trip. This kind of practise is especially common in Japan. These souvenirs, called “omiyage,” are a huge part of Japanese work and social life. They’re so important that an entire industry has developed around the creation and sales of omiyage!
So, when do people in Japan give one another omiyage? Where can you buy it? What kinds of things constitute omiyage rather than just a gift? And most importantly, what kind of omiyage are available for otaku? Keep reading to find out more about omiyage culture in Japan!
So What is Omiyage Anyway?
While common souvenirs in other countries are usually t-shirts, toys, mugs, pencils, shot glasses and the like, omiyage in Japan is usually something edible. That’s right; almost all omiyage bought when Japanese people travel or take a day off from work is food or drink related. Omiyage is most commonly taken to work, almost as an apology for having taken the day off and inconvenienced everyone, and is meant to be shared in the office. The best thing to bring for a large group of people to share is, of course, food! The majority of omiyage are snacks, either sweet or savoury, though sometimes they are also drinks like tea or alcohol. Because the point of omiyage is to show where you went on your travels, the food is commonly something regionally specific to that area, such as getting Tokyo Banana cookies in Tokyo, or Chinsuko salt cookies from Okinawa. Even if the food itself isn’t regional, the packaging on the box and often on the individual servings will always declare where it’s from. Of course, omiyage is also exchanged amongst friends and family, but the workplace is the number one place that it is shared!
Because omiyage is expected when Japanese people travel or take a day off from work, its available just about anywhere. There are entire stores dedicated to only omiyage in places like Tokyo Disney or Universal Studios Japan where omiyage for all price points and in all sizes is on display. Just walking around just about anywhere, though, you can also find omiyage for sale. It’s available in a lot of themed shops (which we are going to look more into below), in department stores, in train stations, and along streets that are frequented by tourists. Omiyage is easy to spot as its usually sold in boxes or collectable tins printed with the name of wherever you are, whether that’s a shop, amusement park, city, mountain, hotel, or wherever you have found yourself. Omiage is also not usually that expensive, costing an average of about ¥100 ($1 USD) per piece, so a pack of 10 cookies is about ¥1000 ($10 USD).
What’s Available for Otaku?
Okay, that is all very interesting, but how is it relevant to otaku culture? Is there anything special for otaku to buy for their friends? The answer is, of course! This is Japan, the heart of otaku culture, after all. Luckily for otaku, plenty of stores that also cater to otaku interests have special omiyage that you can buy to show your dedication to all your co-workers back at the office. The Pokemon Store, Evangelion Store, Godzilla Store, Nintendo Store, Capcom Store, Sanrio Puroland, and even Animate all have special omiyage available to purchase—and that’s just naming a few places across Tokyo, let alone the rest of Japan!
If you head to otaku neighbourhoods like Akihabara, Ikebukuro, or Nipponbashi, you can also get otaku-themed omiyage at a lot of shops. These omiyage will be themed for that neighbourhood, proudly sporting the name of the area you visited along with anime characters, maids, Sanrio characters, kaiju, and more. Often, the snacks inside are something simple like cookies, rice crackers, or chocolates but the packaging is always very themed. Whether you want to get a treat for your otaku friends or show all your co-workers exactly what you’re interested in, omiyage culture certainly has not left otaku out.
While souvenir-buying is definitely a part of cultures around the world, no place does it quite like Japan. And since Japan is also the capital of otaku world culture, it goes without saying that it’s easy to find otaku-themed omiyage just about anywhere. Whether you like video games, anime, maids, or idols, you can find some special snacks to bring home. Plus, omiyage are very affordable since they are meant to be purchased by everyone, so they make a great gift even for yourself! Grab one in a collectable box and not only do you have a tasty snack or drink, but you have something else you can keep forever!
What do you think about Japan’s omiyage culture? Do you think other countries should have something similar? What kind of otaku omiyage would you buy if you could? Have you ever received an otaku omiyage yourself? Do you have any other questions about omiyage, or is there another part of Japanese culture you would love to see explored like this? Let us know in the comments!