When people in Japan travel, they often bring back omiyage (お土産) to share with their coworkers, friends, and families. Omiyage is often translated as souvenirs, though the connotation is slightly different, as while a souvenir is usually a small present you get for one person (a keychain, those snowglobes), omiyage is usually something that you will share with everybody when you get back (like food). For example, if one of your coworkers goes to Australia, they might bring back a box of Tim Tams, and everyone in the office will get one. This is one cultural trait we encourage you to try to adopt, as not only does it give you a conversation starter, but because everyone likes getting food from people.
Japanese people do not typically give out omiyage when they start a job, but many JETs bring small presents for their coworkers and neighbors when they first come to Japan. If you do this, the people you might want to shop for are:
- The Office Staff
- The English Teachers (especially the ones you teach with)
- Your Go-between (probably the most important one)
- Your landlord
- Your neighbors
Ask your predecessor for help on this one, as they’ll know all of the people that you will interact with on a regular basis, and might know what certain people like. It’s also a good idea to bring small gifts that you can give to your students as prizes. Be aware that most schools have rules against giving food to students, so make sure you check with your go-between before you start handing out chocolates.
What To Get People
Gifts should be small and simple. Shopping for omiyage in Japan is pretty easy, as every place in Japan is famous for something. Hiroshima has its momiji-manju and Hokkaido has its butter cookies, and you should have no problems finding omiyage shops that sell small boxes of individually wrapped goodies.
If you are a new JET and bringing presents over from your home country, try to be as creative as possible. Food is always good, but people will like anything that is in any way representative of your hometown, country, or culture. For example, one JET brought dreidels for his students and gave them away when he did a lesson on Chanukah. One creative Scottish JET bought the ingredients for making shortbread, and then made it for all of her coworkers and neighbors. If you really can’t think of anything, some other gift ideas are:
- Photo book
- Alcohol (good for principals and vice-principals)
- Tie pins