Omiyage – The way of the souvenir

One of the best things about teaching in Japan is the omiyage, souvenirs that Japanese people feel obligated to buy for everyone they know! This, of course, includes teachers. The most common kind of omiyage is cookies or rice crackers. Barely a week goes by without one of my students bringing a box of biscuits to class from some remote village, Disneyland or a trip overseas.

Today I was given a Universal Studios Japan ballpen with a pumpkin on the top to mark this year’s Halloween season. I’ll be writing about Halloween soon because I have to do lessons about it. Being British, I don’t know too much about Halloween and can’t see what all the fuss is about, but since the Japanese assume American culture is the same as every other English-speaking country, I have to teach it. Hmm.. maybe I should teach them about other great British holidays such as Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Day!

Anyway, back to omiyage. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been given a box of maple leaf shaped biscuits from Toronto, a “I Love NY” t-shirt from you know where, and a box of cookies from Hawaii!

The downside about all these gifts is that you need to return the gesture. When Mami and I went to England and France for our honeymoon last year, we came back with a suitcase filled with omiyage for my students, colleagues, friends and family.

While I don’t mind spending money on souvenirs, I do mind taking two or three days out of a busy holiday schedule to shop for them!

Omiyage is a nice tradition, but I think it’s taken too far. Souvenirs are expected but rarely appreciated. I would much rather my students spend more time enjoying their holiday and less time worrying about what to get me. Send me a postcard or show me some photos when you get back. That’s all I need.

I’ll finish with an excerpt from Wikipedia:

In Japan, these souvenirs are known as omiyage and tend to be candies or other edibles to be shared with co-workers. Omiyage sales are big business at Japanese tourist sites. Many train stations carry such gifts so that travelers can buy last-minute omiyage before returning home.

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