Omiyage From Japan

When we are at airports and tourist destinations, we see stores selling merchandise that proudly promotes the country or area we are in. We all love to have a keepsake of  places we’ve traveled to. These little mementos can bring a flood of memories of a treasured journey.

Omiyage (お土産 pronounced oh – me – ah – geh)means “souvenir” but with a twist. Souvenirs are things a traveler purchases on a trip to remember a place, while a Japanese omiyage is almost always a food item produced in the area where the trip was taken, given out as a present to others.

According to Yuichiro Suzuki, author of Omiyage and the Railway, “Omiyage is associated with the history of a specific region, for example, Ise City’s Akafuku rice crackers or Gunma Prefecture’s famous Kusatsu Onsen mochi. In general, this is not true of omiyage elsewhere.”

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The Japanese omiyage custom supposedly began with sacred pilgrimages. People who visited Shinto shrines brought back evidence of their pilgrimage. They were expected to give family members rice wine cups, charms, or other such religious items relevant to the Shinto shrine they visited. It was believed that the protection granted to the person who went on the pilgrimage would extend to the other members of the family who received a gift from the sacred trip. And thus began the omiyage custom among the Japanese.

Manekineko.| Nemo’s great uncle

This year, the Japan Tourism Agency announced the top picks for Japanese souvenirs. The judges were representatives from 15 different countries and regions, including experts from several domestic sectors such as distribution and sightseeing.  Some of the non-food items that won are a lamp wrapped in washi paper and adorned with real flowers designed by Hirose Sosaku Kogei, from Yosano-cho, Kyoto; Okiagari-koboshi wooden dolls from Tohoku; and a manekineko (lucky cat) from Aichi prefecture.

Other popular omiyage choices from Japan are:

Royce’ Chocolate.  These deliciously creamy chocolates are Hokkaido’s signature product.

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Royce’ Chocolate. | David McKelvey

Yukari Ebi Senbei.  Yukari Japanese prawn crackers, a popular product of Aichi.

Ki ni Naru Ringo.  Apple-pie pastry dessert proudly made in Aomori.

Baumkuchen.  Log cakes originally adapted from Germany but not uniquely from Shiga.

Inaniwa Hoshi Udon.  Dried wheat noodles from Akita.

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Inaniwa Hoshi Udon. | pelican