The World of Japanese Omiyage - Articles | APU Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

The World of Japanese Omiyage

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The World of Japanese Omiyage

Keyrings, magnets, trinkets, all depicting famous landmarks or popular culture... If you've ever gone on a trip, you've definitely seen these hanging off shelves at stores or markets! Or you’ve received some of these from friends or a family member when they got back from vacation!

A souvenir shop is a commonplace one might look for when they visit a new place, a popular theme park, or even a museum. The word souvenir comes from French, meaning remembrance or memory or to “occur to the mind.” People tend to purchase souvenirs to help preserve the memories they have experienced. When you look at a souvenir years after your vacation, it's as if the past comes back to life. You’re transported back in time to when you first set eyes on that small trinket.

In Japan, however, the culture interprets “souvenir” in a slightly different manner. One Japanese translation for souvenir is “お土産” (omiyage) and for Japanese people, there is not only a culture of buying omiyage for oneself, but a strong custom of gifting omiyage to your acquaintances, friends, coworkers, and family. Whenever you travel, regardless of if you're on vacation or a business trip, it’s a common practice to buy some omiyage to give to your colleagues and friends when you come back. Japan is well known for its emphasis on politeness, and in Japanese culture, buying gifts for acquaintances is seen as polite behavior since you’ve been away while others stayed to continue work in your absence!

As a result of this omiyage-giving culture, the souvenir market in Japan is like no other. Planning to come to Japan someday and curious about the souvenirs? Or maybe you’re an international resident, fretting over what omiyage to buy for your colleagues after a trip? Whether you’re a visitor or you live here, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number and diverse selection of merchandise in a Japanese souvenir shop! Let this blog guide you through some amazing Japanese souvenirs ideas!


Presented in creative packaging with each item wrapped separately to be easily distributed to a large number of people, snacks are one of the most popular types of omiyage in Japan. As part of 「一村一品運動」("one village, one product movement") started in 1979, each prefecture in Japan chose a special product in their local area to promote to visitors. Visitors who bought those souvenirs were taking back with them the most unique aspect of the city they had traveled to. Here in Beppu City where APU is located, there are a few famous items like bath salts and powders, or bamboo and wood art, but for snacks, we have hot spring steamed pudding and candied pomelo (citrus fruit)!

At APU, I work in a student organization providing library services to students. Whenever we come back from vacation, the common table in our office would always be full of omiyage snacks. People would write post-it notes with warm wishes like; “Happy New Year,” “I came back from Kumamoto, please take some for lunch,” and “Don’t get hungry during these cold days,” sticking them to the front of their omiyage packages. Because a lot of us international students go back home over vacation, we also brought goodies from our own countries!


“But this is so cute, I want one for myself...” Omiyage isn’t just for giving to others, you can also buy them for yourself! Japan offers accessories that you simply cannot resist. One of my all-time favorite souvenirs I’ve been collecting is coin pouches with traditional Japanese patterns. Before Japan, I never knew that coin pouches could be opened in so many creative ways. These pouches are designed with incredible durability so you can twist, press, and pop them open. They’re not only used for your coins but also to store your belongings, such as earrings, rings, thin bracelets, and almost anything that will fit!

Another popular omiyage choice is chopsticks! Why have I put chopsticks under accessories? Well… because you wouldn’t use Japanese souvenir chopsticks to eat! They’re meant to be more of a decoration. If you pass by a chopsticks gallery on Sannenzaka slope on the way to Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, you can receive the full package to obtaining the perfect chopsticks! First, they measure your hands to find the exact length of chopsticks that would be most comfortable for you. After that, you can choose the type of wood, the pattern at the end of the chopsticks, as well as the letters you want them to print on them. Just 5 minutes later, you have a pair of chopsticks designed especially for you! The chopsticks also come with an artistically-designed chopstick holder!


I was genuinely impressed with both the souvenir-giving culture as well as the developed souvenir industry of Japan. When it comes to Japan, the notion of buying a piece of the local culture to bring back to share with the people you know is a deep and creative custom. Having lived in Japan for two years now, it’s become second nature to think about buying the perfect souvenir for people who are waiting for me after my trip. The more I travel, the more diverse and interesting Japanese souvenirs I find. Even to this day, I continue to be surprised by the original souvenir ideas!

The next time you have a chance to travel to Japan, be sure to stop in as many souvenir shops as you can and have a look for yourself!

Photos featured are courtesy of APU Student Social Media Unit member Van Nguyen Hong An.



Van Nguyen Hong An (Dian) is an APS student from Vietnam. People may find Dian blogging in the office, or taking pictures on campus with her camera named Shiru-kun. Let's meet Dian and Shiru on a sunny day!

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