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Japan’s Culture of ‘Omiyage’ Enhances Overseas Shopping

June 20, 2013 Destination North Asia No Comments Email Email

In major destinations across the globe and in Japan, it is not uncommon to see Japanese travelers with their arms full of shopping bags of omiyage (gifts to be given to family, friends, workers, acquaintances).

Macarons in the window of Sadaharu Aoki, Paris (Tokyo store)Many of these omiyage tend to represent the charms of a particular destination: macarons from Paris, Kona coffee from Hawaii or maple butter from Canada.

Why are Japanese so crazy about omiyage? According to the book “Omiyage and the Railway,” written by Yuichiro Suzuki, the custom of omiyage is said to be associated with sacred pilgrimages by those who visited shrines in Japan. Those who went on the pilgrimage brought back gifts such as sake cups or other religious artifacts, which then were thought to transfer protection to those who received the items.

When restrictions on overseas travel were lifted in 1964, allowing the general public to travel, those who went on trips — since travel from Japan were prohibitively expensive and affordable to only a few then — were given money by friends and relatives. In return for the money, the travelers brought back omiyage for each person who gave them money. This can be seen even today among honeymoon couples purchasing gifts as a way to say thank you for the kindness of friends and relatives.

Suzuki said that in Japan omiyage is associated with the history of specific regions, such as rice crackers in one town, or rice sweets in another town, thus the plethora of choices available that can be found in many places throughout Japan, especially in train stations, signaling the last opportunity to shop before returning home.

At Tokyo station, there are shops that specialize in regional omiyage, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south of Japan, underscoring the continual popularity of this cultural aspect.

Airlines have also taken advantage of the omiyage culture by providing delivery of goods ordered inflight or online. Travel agencies such as JTB and H.I.S. also have special websites from which consumers can purchase items from a wide range of items by destinations and regions from overseas.

Meanwhile, according to Yahoo Japan’s shopping site, the most popular omiyage this year from overseas among Japanese travelers is Maxims de Paris assorted chocolates (France), underscoring the popularity of the country for many years, especially among honeymooners.

Maxims de-Paris chocolatesMaxims de-Paris chocolates

Following are the top omiyage in 2013:

  1. 1- Maxims de-Paris assorted chocolates (France)
  2. 2- Lion Coffee Vanilla Macadamia flavored (Hawaii)
  3. 3- Hawaiian Sun-brand Taste of Hawaii Chocolate-covered macadamia nuts (Hawaii)
  4. 4-Mauna Loa-brand Macadamia Nuts Onion-Garlic flavor (Hawaii)
  5. 5-Clemente brand Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Italy)
  6. 6-Caffarel Gianduia 1865 Chocolates (Italy)
  7. 7-Manner brand Johan Strauss hazel nut wafers (Austria)
  8. 8-Dolce Vita truffles (Italy)
  9. 9-Korean yuzu-flavored chocoloates (South Korea)
  10. 10- Sorrento Limoncello (Italy)

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