Guide to Omiyage in Japan (おみやげ): What is It And Where to Buy Them?

Last Updated on 07.12.2021 by Coto Japanese Language School

Have you ever wondered what the term “omiyage” in Japan actually means?

Most of you would know the term “souvenir” in English. It’s usually a physical item you buy from overseas to be kept as memories of a particular place or event. Souvenirs bought are typically kept for you or given to others as a gift.

However, did you know that “omiyage” (おみやげ) in Japanese is a somewhat different thing? Although it translates to souvenirs, it does not actually refer to things you buy for yourself as mementos from overseas. In this case, omiyage actually refers to the act of giving gifts that you buy to your friends, families, relatives and coworkers. These gifts are often snack-related, such as cookies, biscuits, sweets, cake or mochi.

In Japan, for example, as a way to thank your colleagues for supporting your work during your paid leave, you’d bring an omiyage to the office. It is an important and widely practiced tradition for people who visit overseas to return with omiyage from that particular place of visit. For example, if you visit London as a Japanese, more or likely you would bring back a gift related to London such as locally produced chocolate, chips or biscuits.

Omiyage shops are widely available in most tourist places of every country. This is where you’ll find large varieties of local items such as snacks, ornaments or toys.

Origin of Omiyage in Japan

Although the origin of the term “Omiyage” is unclear, it was said that the beginning of the custom began in association with the long pilgrimages on foot to the Shinto Shrine. Whenever the pilgrims traveled, they would bring back evidence of their pilgrimage to their families. This usually came in the form of charms, rice wine cups or other religiously significant items.

It was thought back then that bringing back gifts would grant them protection. The protection would also be transferred to whoever received the items that were brought back from the sacred trip. This was the beginning of the culture of “omiyage”.

Meaning of Omiyage when broken down :

Omiyage (おみやげ) or (お土産) – Act of giving of gifts to friends, families & relatives.

– “earth” or “local” (pronounced tsuchi つち )

– “product” or “delivery” (pronounced san さん)

– Polite & honorific, a prefix used in formal Japanese.

Japanese Omiyage Gift Ideas (Best 5 Confectionery Options)

Japanese omiyage can be found almost everywhere, although it is more of what you want to present as gifts. You will be easily able to find omiyage in department stores, 100-yen stores, train stations, and tourist attractions. Picking out an omiyage often has its own rules as well.

For example, you would purchase something that is nicely wrapped and represents the region you visited and is usually food-related. Remember the thing we said about giving omiyage to your colleagues? This is the reason why you’ll see a lot of omiyage individually wrapped.

Each region — or prefecture in Japan — has its specialty. In Tokyo, for example, there’s the iconic Tokyo Banana. In Hokkaido, you’ll find a lot of sweet snacks with Yubari melon flavor and Shiroi Koibito.

Want to know more about the prefectures? We’ve made individual blog posts about prefectures in Japan, including features on Kanagawa, Osaka and Tochigi.

1. Tokyo Banana

Tokyo Banana is the ultimate Japanese confectionery that you can gift as an omiyage. Known for its delicious cream-filled sponge cakes and cute banana-looking design, it is easily available in all airports and major cities in Japan. It has a wide range of flavors, from its original banana flavor to coffee milk flavor. Some flavors are only available in certain cities. It is also beautifully wrapped in an eye-catching yellow gift box that features Tokyo Banana’s familiar logo.

2. Kit Kat

The world of Kit Kat in Japan is never-ending. From original flavors to rare region-specific flavors (who knew sake Kit Kat is a thing?), Kit kat is one of the best gifts to gift as an omiyage. With over 300 flavors, the most popular Japanese flavored Kit Kat are probably matcha and strawberry cheesecake. Kit Kat also offers limited flavors for each region of Japan.

3. Pocky

Falling on November 11 every year, “Pocky Day” is well known by kids all around Japan. This is because the long sticks of pocky look like the number 1. 11/11 also signifies 4 pocky sticks. This delicious snack is long sticks of biscuits usually covered in different flavors of chocolate and is one of the most popular Japanese childhood snacks in Asia. There is even a Pocky Factory located in, Saitama, Kitamoto city that offers a free factory tour.

4. Mochi

Mochi is an old traditional Japanese confectionery that features a soft, sticky dough pounded from sweet rice and often filled with different types of fillings. The original mochi usually has red bean paste fillings. The style and flavor of mochi vary greatly among the different cities of Japan. Specially flavored mochi are also made to match the particular season. Mochi of all types can be easily found in most major train stations, department stores and tourist attractions.

5. Shiroi Koibito

Hokkaido is well known for its Shiroi Koibito cookies. The “white lover” cookies has white chocolate sandwiched between two slices of its signature vanilla flavored biscuits that just simply melt in your mouth. Each cookie is individually wrapped in an attractive presentation wrapper featuring an image of Mount Rishiri, one of Japan’s most beautiful mountains. Hence, making it one of the best gifts you can give to someone.

Japanese Omiyage Gift Ideas (Besides Confectionery)

Although Japanese omiyage gifts are usually confectionery-related products, omiyage can also be just about anything. As long as the gift is special and represents the place visited, there can be a lot of gift ideas to choose from. If you are not familiar with what to buy, you can ask the locals what would be the best omiyage item to buy.

1. Japanese Traditional Crafts

Japanese traditional crafts are one of the best omiyage gift ideas you can decide on. Known for its beauty and well-respected culture, Japanese traditional crafts are rich in history and of good quality. There is a wide range of Japanese traditional crafts you can choose from as gifts such as origami paper, ceramics, traditional dolls, yukata, Japanese fans, lanterns!

One typical traditional Japanese gift most tourists get is the “Omamori“. It is a beautiful amulet that is meant for protection from all kinds of harm and is easily available for purchase at temples across Japan. They are used to wishing for health, longevity, relationships and love, safe birth and more. This charm often makes great lucky gifts for those back home.

2. Cosmetics

With Japan being known for its advances in technology, Japanese cosmetics have been gaining much popularity all around the world. Popular cosmetics options that you can purchase as omiyage are eye shadow, lipsticks, lip tints, foundation or skincare. Many inexpensive cosmetic brands like CANMAKE, Kate and CEZANNE offer trendy and useful make-up and skincare items. Drugstores like Matsumoto Kiyoshi or discount chain store Don Quijote are usually the best places to buy affordable cosmetics.

3. Accessories

These can make one of the greatest gifts to give. Items such as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, hairpieces have been becoming increasingly popular lately and Japan is also well-known for its beautiful accessories. These accessories need not be expensive but rather nicely wrapped as a gift is more than enough.

4. Stationery

Known as the world of stationery, stationery shopping in Japan can often take up a whole day. There are multistory shops and shopping centers dedicated to selling all kinds of stationery. Many of these most are which you never knew you or your friend needed. If you are looking for more mature stationery options, you can try Itoya, Loft and Tokyu Hands where they have countless of leather-bound diaries, planners and notebooks that are stocked on their shelves

Muji is well known for their quality (albeit minimalistic) stationaries. For children-friendly options, you can visit Disney Store in Tokyo. The Pokemon Store is also another themed store that you can consider visiting with large collections of Pikachu-themed pens, notebooks or bags.

Where to get Omiyage in Tokyo

With Tokyo being the heart of Japan and welcoming over 337 million tourists (dipped since COVID-19) each year, here is a list of the best places in Tokyo you can find omiyage that will make the perfect gifts as a little taste of your Japan experience.

1. Tokyo Station

Besides airports, Train Stations are usually a jackpot to purchase omiyage. Being the largest train station in Tokyo and serving over 450,000 passengers a day across its 28 platforms, Tokyo Train Station itself is home to many shops that sell different kinds of omiyage. Just like any other major train station in Japan, Tokyo Train Station is linked by underground networks that merge with next-door shopping centers and commercial spaces.

Click here to download the e-map of Tokyo Train Station so you can plan your visit in advance.

People often spent a considerable amount of time choosing what omiyage purchase, so you can shop in the train station while waiting for your train to come. In fact, there is a new specialty store that sells cheese confectionery in Tokyo Station, called “Now On Cheese” that might interest you.

2. Harajuku

Harajuku is possibly the most visited area in Tokyo by tourists where it is known for its bright colors and trendy shops, making it the perfect place to purchase omiyage in Tokyo. It is also home to many popular tourist attractions such as the iconic Meiji Jingu Shrine, Yoyogi Park, and the Ota Memorial Museum of Art. All these places offer shops that sell wide varieties of Japanese omiyage that you can bring home.

You can check out the Oriental Bazaar on your visit to Harajuku. The Oriental Bazaar is a huge shopping center dedicated to selling all kinds of Japanese omiyage related to authentic Japanese culture. You can easily find kimonos, ceramics, fans or accessories to purchase as gifts.

3. Nakamise Street, Asakusa

If you already visited the Sensoji Temple, then visiting Nakamise Street should be your next itinerary. Located just next to Sensoji Temple, which is one of the most visited temples in Japan, Nakamise Street is filled with lots of Japanese omiyage gift shops. You will easily see many different shops selling Japanese snacks, traditional gifts, and accessories. All are perfect Japanese omiyage gifts. You can also venture into any of the covered shopping streets branching out from the main Nakamise street for more shopping options.

4. 100 Yen shops

100-yen shops like DAISO, CanDo, Seria should definitely be on the list for those looking to buy omiyage in Japan. These places are stocked with all kinds of omiyage at affordable prices and decent quality. They have items like fans, chopsticks, stationery, stickers, children’s toys and cute ceramic pottery that would make good omiyage gifts.

DAISO is the most popular 100 yen shop in Japan for both Japanese and tourists alike. The shop has tons of authentic and unique Japanese-themed products, which are perfect for souvenirs.

Omiyage in Japan Giving Etiquette

Omiyage in Japan is not just as simple as giving souvenirs. In fact, there are some basic rules you should learn and follow when wanting to give omiyage to your friends and families. Here are a couple of tips you can follow :

Make sure your gifts are nicely wrapped

In Japan, wrapping is often as important as the gift itself. This is because the wrapping you use showcases your sincerity for the gift. You want the wrapping to be attractive and presentable such as being placed in a special paper bag from the store where you bought it from. Often when you are buying your omiyage is a Japanese shop, the retail workers will wrap your gifts for free.

It is also important to keep in mind the colors that you should use as wrapping. You should avoid colors like red and black as they mean bad luck. Colors like green and purple are good choices to use as wrapping paper.

Do not offer individual gifts

You should avoid giving individual gifts at the office so as not to offend anyone. Individual gifts should be given privately instead. If you are giving gifts that have already been individually wrapped, you should instead place all the gifts on the communal table to allow everyone to see and choose from.

Avoid inauspicious numbers

Besides colors, there are certain numbers you should avoid as well. In Japanese, giving four or nine of anything is considered unlucky. This is because Four (四) and death (死) are both pronounced as shi while the number nine in Japanese is read as ku (九). Ku can be written as 苦 which means suffering and pain.

Presenting the gift well

You should present the gift using two hands (Not one!) to show respect. When presenting your gift, you should also not talk about how much the recipient is going to love it. In fact, people in Japan actually do the opposite by apologizing for the omiyage they are about to give. Just remember that giving of omiyage is a show of respect, appreciation and good intentions to your friends and families when presenting the gift.

Here are some things you can say when giving omiyage so that you do not sound arrogant or disrespectful.

“I hope you like it”

“It was said that it was a very popular gift in the area.”

“It isn’t much, but…”

Learn Japanese with Coto. Take a Free Level Assessment and Consultation