Mar. 18 Fri by Carly Things to Know

If you've traveled anywhere in Japan, you're probably familiar with the fancy, boxed snacks and desserts available at train stations and popular tourist destinations.  Although it's tempting to eat them all yourself, the individually wrapped snacks are meant to share.  These are called omiyage, translated to "souvenirs."  However, omiyage, have cultural implications that are different than what you might already expect of souvenirs.  While souvenirs are purchased in order to serve as a memory of your own trip, omiyage is gifted to those who were not able to travel with you.

If you work at a Japanese company, you're expected to bring omiyage to share with everyone in the office.  When I worked at Japanese schools, I often returned from weekends or holidays to find several omiyage on my desk.  I liked being able to try foods from all over Japan.  The other nice thing about sharing omiyage is that it's a good conversation starter that makes it easier to get to know your coworkers.

For example, a popular omiyage item from Kyoto is yatsuhashi, a cinnamon flavored rice flour confection.  Sometimes it’s served in a consistency similar to mochi with flavored bean paste inside and other times it’s baked like a cookie.

Since omiyage is something unique to Japan, I had a difficult time figuring out what to bring back from America for all my schools because nothing is packaged nearly as nicely.  I ended up handing out Starburst candies because I had never seen them in Japan before.  They're no matcha cookie equivalent, but my coworkers really enjoyed trying something new.

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