Omiyage (Souvenirs) to Take to Japan

22 Feb

Japan is a country where the giving of souvenirs/gifts are very important, as well as the presentation of those gifts. Japan is also a country that seems to already have everything … they have all the brand-names and their technology and design seem to be far superior to the rest of the world (and, everything is cuter!). So. What to take to Japan as gifts? I know a lot of people are going to take good care of us in Japan so I want my gifts to be nice and thoughtful.  After asking my friends and “researching” on the internet, here are my omiyage ideas:

image from ameapa.com

FOR WOMEN:

* Eco Bags (Reusable Bags) from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. They are cute, functional, and seem to be popular in Japan. (click HERE to see how much they are selling for in Japan!). I read that large eco bags are hard to find in Japan. BONUS: they can double as gift wrap!

* Nice hand lotions from somewhere like L’Occitane or Crabtree and Evelyn. I bought these cute gift sets. Who wouldn’t love these whether you live in Japan or anywhere else in the world?

* Little hand sanitizers, called “PocketBacs”, from Bath and Body Works. Inexpensive, cute, and useful. I have heard that since hand sanitizers are not widely used in Japan, you’ll have to explain to your gift recipient how to use this. I think it would look really nice to package 2 or 3 of these in a clear cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon.

* Kitchen tools and accessories from Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel. I think beautiful kitchen towels, pretty cupcake liners, or unique kitchen tools would be nice (note: measuring cups, unless they are measuring spoons, are probably not a good idea because they are different sizes in Japan and in the U.S.)

* Foods like fancy balsamic vinegar, local honey, maple syrup, jam, or spices.

* Pretty earrings, perhaps made locally where you live.

* I hear that cute aprons are popular these days. Anthropologie has some that any girl would love! For someone who likes to host home parties.

* If your recipient is into scrapbooking/card-making, pretty papers, stamps, stickers, cutters, etc might be nice (I like the Martha Stewart Line that can be found at Michaels or JoAnns).

* Nice stationery and notepads (Barnes and Noble, Hallmark, and Papyrus have nice selections).

FOR MEN:

* For my grandpa, I plan to get some beef jerky, nuts (nuts are expensive in Japan), and dried fruit.

* NFL or College team T-shirts or other apparel

* I hear teenage boys like shirts from Hollister, or vintage shirts.

* American candy. I have read that Skittles and Reeses’s are two candies that can’t be found or are rare in Japan.

YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS:

* Hair accessories and clothes from Gymboree or Janie and Jack (or any store, really).

* Sticker Dolly books. I LOVE these!! Great quality and so adorable. I recommend this one.

* Disney princess stuff.

* T-shirts (perhaps from Old Navy?)

* “Where’s Waldo?” books.

* Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, and other “American” snacks.

* Things that go along with American holidays, such as egg-dyeing kits for Easter, Halloween candy, etc.

* Your favorite children’s books or music CD’s.

FOR ANYONE:

* Girl Scout Cookies! Those definitely can’t be found in Japan, right? I think the Thin Mints would be a hit.

* Chocolate-covered pretzels.

* Gourmet flavoring for popcorn.

* Tea and coffee (I don’t drink either, so I don’t have any recommendations).

* If going before the winter holidays, I hear American Christmas ornaments are a hit. Hallmark has a million to choose from!

* CD of music played by your local orchestra.

* Think local! What is unique to your area?

PEOPLE WHO YOU’RE REALLY CLOSE TO:

* For my aunt who is going to be helping us a lot in Japan, I thought I would make her a photo book of our trip to Japan and send it to her after our trip so she can recall the fun we had! I have used Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Blurb, and they are all great.

* For my grandpa, I am going to give him a framed family photo.

* It might be fun to put together a CD of your favorite music for a special friend.

*****

WHEW! I hope this list helps someone out there, because I did A LOT of thinking to come up with things that might be well-received by  friends and family in Japan! I’m also going to take a stash of gift wrap, gift bags, and tissue paper so I can wrap these gifts nicely after we arrive in Japan. I know it’s not REQUIRED to give everyone a gift, but it sure feels good to reciprocate the kindness that everyone shows to us when we visit.

And yes, you may say that omiyage adds bulk to your luggage, but after you give them all away, you’ll have more space for all the fun things you buy in Japan :). OH, also, it’s a good idea to not take anything that takes up a lot of space. Most Japanese homes are very limited on space. So something that can be consumed or used up is best. Also, be careful with chocolates in the summer, as they may melt.

Do you have any great omiyage ideas? If you live in Japan, what are some things you love to receive from overseas? アメリカから欲しいお土産は,何ですか?Don’t forget to check out my post about what to buy in Japan, here.

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31 Responses to “Omiyage (Souvenirs) to Take to Japan”

  1. aame February 23, 2012 at 12:06 AM #

    Wow…what a long and interesting list and those sure are thoughtful…am sure everyone would love their little gifts :)

    • Hiragana Mama February 23, 2012 at 12:16 PM #

      I hope so, thanks!

      • Molly Huang February 23, 2012 at 1:52 PM #

        I agree with you that it’s nice to bring gifts for everyone. I always feel appriciate both the giving and recieving of things, even small stuff and it gives you something to attach a thank you note to.

        I like the idea of tote bags. They make the great tote bags that collapse into their own matching little baggie and can be carried on a key chain… I like those because they weight almost nothing and will pack great. Also they come in fun prints.

        A thought on hand sanitizers… Some biologically minded people are really agaist them and they may not be popular because the Japanese people pay more attention to long term germ warfare. I know I dislike them when people give them to me.

        I think the {}Orchestra puts out a Christmas album every few years and that would be both current and local.

        Good Luck.

        • Hiragana Mama February 23, 2012 at 3:20 PM #

          True, about the hand sanitizers! They come in handy when there’s no soap in the public bathrooms though :)

      • ApplePi November 22, 2012 at 4:12 AM #

        Really neat ideas that I hadn’t thought of before. We usually stick to consumables (food) but those are some GREAT ideas!

        Here is what we have found:

        Don’t worry about getting BIG gifts. Those little 5oz. bottles of maple syrup are great gifts. Space is at a premium in Japan and no one expects big things.

        Also, if you have to choose between smaller and nicer packaging and bigger and better value… always go with the nicer packaging.

        Be careful with Beef Jerky, as it’s not allowed into Japan, it could get confiscated. You can try, but don’t 100% count on it getting through. Salmon Jerky is okay, though!

        Candied Salmon is a nice gift as is Smoked Salmon. Great West Coast gift.

        Dare Maple-cream cookies shaped like maple leaves are good from Canada.

        Small bottles of Maple Syrup are great.

        The candy section of Trader Joe’s. Enough said.

        We stay away from Chocolate and other sweets because it’s typically too sweet for most Japanese we know. Don’t bring Kit Kats. They have WAY more variety in Japan. You’ll probably want to bring some back though! Wasabi, Red Bean, Tropical, Matcha, Black Sugar… lots and lots of flavors to fall in love with.

        Coffee from a good local chain (or Starbucks) is appreciated as coffee is much more expensive in Japan. Just make sure it’s ground unless you know they have a grinder. If you’re a coffee person, look for Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. It’s quite expensive but most of the crop goes to Japan… so it’s hard to find elsewhere. It’s considered some of the best coffee in the world.

        Alpine Apple Cider drink packets. These are great as each pouch is individualized and it’s really rare in Japan.

        Peanut butter can be hard to find in Japan, but not all Japanese like it or are used to the taste. They have “Peanut Cream” there which is delicious (sweet and made with whipped cream, I believe)

        Wine is expensive in Japan compared to other alcohol with less variety, so if you know someone likes wine, a local wine is a good choice. If you’re Canadian Ice wine or late harvest wine is usually a great gift as most Japanese know its value and many like the taste. Usually small cute bottles as well.

        We brought over some cinnamon honey and it was really popular as well.

        I know someone who brought over Burger King Whoppers. I’m not kidding. It was for his Japanese brother and a special request.

        I’m sure there are other things that I’m not thinking of.

        • Hiragana Mama November 22, 2012 at 10:11 AM #

          Great ideas, especially for Canadians!

  2. Ashlee February 23, 2012 at 5:52 PM #

    I am so glad you posted this! There is the nicest Japanese family that we know and they own their own cute quaint restaurant. We have been to it twice. It is the BEST food! Next time we go we want to bring them a gift , but I Didnt know what we should bring. This helps a ton!

  3. ashlee February 23, 2012 at 11:26 PM #

    Hey, i have a question for you. This fall i have the opportunity to put Jaydon into a japanese school(preschool). He is turning 3 in June so when he starts he will be a little over 3. The Japanese start school this early, and it seems all day. I really want to put him into the school, BUT curious what you would do if presented with the opportunity? It would be from 9 am to 2 pm, monday through friday. Does that seem like a lot or do you think this could be a great thing?!!? He is very outgoing and i think he would do well with it, BUT i am almost feeling GUILTY at the thought of putting him in school SO soon and for SO long. I want him to learn some japanese and learn about the culture and this could be great, BUT i just don’t know. thoughts?

    • Hiragana Mama February 24, 2012 at 8:10 AM #

      I would totally do it. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and a little 3-year old’s brain will pick up Japanese so quickly! If you feel you’re not getting enough time with him, you could always pull him out of school for a day or so here and there. When I was 3, I lived in Japan and went to preschool all day. Lots of fun memories!

  4. Rachel M. February 25, 2012 at 2:46 PM #

    This is such a great list! I always have such a hard time thinking of what to bring over from America. I usually just bring Christmas ornaments, and occasionally something unique to the person if I know them well (like a large glass teapot, since they are hard to find in Japan, for a tea enthusiast). Now I have a broader list for things to get in general.

    BTW, I love the new layout! It’s so cute!

    • Hiragana Mama February 28, 2012 at 9:31 PM #

      Thanks so much Rachel!

  5. Jen February 25, 2012 at 7:37 PM #

    What a thorough list!

    Hand sanitizers are widely used in Japan now. It all changed when H1N1 came, and now every school/company and most stores have them at entrances.

    I love those tote bags! I think for people in urban areas without cars, smaller size shopping bags are better, but here in the rural areas larger ones come in handy (and are very hard to find! My Costco one gets a workout!)

    I stick to food 95% of the time. Individually wrapped is best, so even if you are giving to a family they can share with neighbours/coworkers. They have bags of mini-Coffee Crisp chocolate bars in Canada and that is my standard omiyage when coming back.

    Consumables are best just because houses in Japan are so small. No matter how much you like something, if you want to keep something you have to chuck out something else to make room.

    • Hiragana Mama February 28, 2012 at 9:33 PM #

      Thanks for all your thoughts and ideas! I didn’t know Costco had Eco bags, I’ll have to go look!

  6. Jeshka February 27, 2012 at 8:44 AM #

    I just put together a care package for a friend that just moved to Japan and I was glad to see I included may of the items on your list! Sad that I did not have TJs in my state… It was harder than I thought because so much is available in Japan. Love your website!

  7. Shinobu (LittleJapanMama) July 25, 2012 at 11:28 PM #

    Great list! Nuts and Beef Jerky are always a hit with Japanese men! Framed photos and photobooks are always great for family.
    My friend had a Japanese student homestay with them and the #1 thing she wanted to take home was a home-baked Apple Pie! Luckily the flight from Australia to Japan was only 9 hours for her, but I guess if you had a direct flight from the U.S. it could work. I took a baked cheesecake to my in-laws once. Maybe other home-baked goods would also be fun.
    Christmas and Easter candy are also a great novelty since they’re rare in Japan (compared to U.S.)
    One item my mother-in-law loved was a large jar of chewable Vitamin C tablets. They’re much cheaper in Australia than Japan.
    I always take Tim-tams (chocolate coated, chocolate cream chocolate cookies that come from Australia) especially limited-edition flavour variations of your local candy/snacks that can’t be found in Japan are always a hit.
    They do sometimes like individually-wrapped items that come in a box, so they can share them at work etc.
    Mostly I stick to food and consumables, since everything else is better and cheaper in Japan.

    • Hiragana Mama July 26, 2012 at 7:33 AM #

      Thank you for all these awesome ideas, Shinobu-san!

  8. sarahcates12 August 2, 2012 at 11:28 AM #

    An interesting list! I prefer to give candy. Reese’s and Skittles, like you said. My Japanese friends love them.
    I’m not sure if you’ve mentioned these somewhere else, but here are a few taboos to mention when giving gifts:
    Don’t give combs! The word for comb in Japanese is くし、which sounds like “suffering” and “death.” It’s as if you’re wishing them suffering and death if you give them a comb!
    Don’t give breakables, especially mirrors. If they are broken, they feel that their relationship may end up broken as well!
    Don’t give gifts in odd numbers. They’re bad luck.
    Don’t give gifts in fours. Four is し which has the same reading as “death.”

  9. Barry Brewer January 27, 2013 at 11:04 PM #

    That’s a great list, and I appreciate the thought of this post. I live in North NJ and we have the best pizza in the USA, yes better than NYC, so I went to a great local place and brought a pizza, brought it home, wrapped each slice and brought it to Japan. I think that going local is the best way to go because it is unique. I like food too because it will not take up space (hips and thighs notwithstanding).

    • Hiragana Mama January 29, 2013 at 2:58 PM #

      lol, that’s fun you took a pizza to Japan!

  10. bo February 25, 2013 at 10:26 PM #

    Thanks for the great advice. I used to live in Japan but couldnt think of things to take for omiyage. My friends loved the trader joes items (especially since they go to trader joes when they are here). I also took Godiva and Sees chocolate. One friend is a car buff so I took BMW branded items. Another likes spicey food so I took hot sauce. Everything went over very well.

    • Hiragana Mama February 25, 2013 at 10:51 PM #

      I’m so glad! Thanks for letting us know!

  11. Angela March 7, 2013 at 2:54 AM #

    Since I’m from Hawaii, I am bringing local tea bags (hibiscus, passion fruit, guava) wrapped nicely in small cellophane bags along with my calling card. I expect to give them to hundreds for a meeting so they will not be elaborate, otherwise I will be laden down with omiyage. From last experience, I want to give something back because the Japanese are so generous, it’s weird not to reciprocate.

    • Hiragana Mama March 7, 2013 at 7:03 PM #

      Those sound delicious! Japanese people love the cookies from the Hawaiian Cookie Company too!

  12. KimonoMomo May 12, 2013 at 11:17 AM #

    Thank you for this list and all the helpful replies! I really needed this. I’m off to Trader Joe’s and Costco today, and Tokyo tomorrow!

  13. jasonsampieri@hotmail.com February 2, 2014 at 3:07 AM #

    Having been to Japan a couple of times already and witnessing the extreme qaulity and diversity on offer there I decided to look for local handmade products from my region. I am from Australia and am lucky enough to live in a country region that has many local hand made products. Here is my list of what is well recieved in Japan!
    - woollen scarfs (merino/possum blend)
    - local Honey
    -local hand made ceramics such as candle holders cups etc. Even better if they are signed underneath. This is a clear sign of qaulity.
    - Chocolate and hard boiled sweets.
    - Hand made glass blown art with colours.
    - hand made wooden products such as a chopping board made from the tree of your own country. Doesn’t have to be too big and heavy.
    - small pewter key rings as gifts for friends of friends you might meet. This is a really nice gesture because it shows that you thought of people you don’t know, and if they are in the room while gift giving is being done then they will be pleasantly surprised you are including them. I gave out Aussie animals as my key ring theme, hardly something they would use but nice and cute enough to admire.
    - wool lined slippers (ugg brand)
    I hope this gives people some ideas.
    I personally like to give these sorts of things because I am lucky enough to stay a week or so with friends, if you we’re to add that up in a hotel cost, it’s a lot of money. So why not give some of that back in some qaulity! But always give according to your heart because that’s the best gift! While staying with friends in Japan i like to bring little gifts back to them from my days outings, things they are unlikely to buy on a regular basis such as Takashimaya department store products, fruits, green tea, and candies.
    These things are not always cheap but you don’t have to spend top dollar to get something a little above the norm. The great thing about taking many things to Japan is the amount of space you will have left in your suit case to bring some shopping back home. Of coarse for many (including myself) this requires some hard saving in order to afford such things. One final thing I like to avoid is gifts that are available on eBay, that’s why local hand made is always the go. Something that is not online is good in my opinion.
    Have a good trip to Japan!

    -

    -

    • Hiragana Mama February 2, 2014 at 6:53 PM #

      Thanks so much! Good idea to not take anything that is readily available online!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Quora - September 3, 2012

    What’s a good gift to bring to your host family in Japan?…

    This is a problem my mother has been dealing with for the last four decades, with an increasing amount of frustration and trepidation. In the 1970s, it was simple. California oranges and beef jerky were prized gifts from the U.S. As Japan grew more pro…

  2. Happy Holidays! Plus Favorite Posts and Sites. « Hiragana Mama - November 19, 2012

    [...] 2. Ideas for souvenirs to take to Japan: *** [...]

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