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カテゴリーのアイコン Work Life in Japan
Navigating the Workplace Tradition of Omiyage
Jan 16, 2024
4 min read
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One element of the Japanese working culture that I will never stop being so excited about is “omiyage”.

Omiyage: Gift-Giving Tradition

“Omiyage” is a Japanese tradition centered around the act of giving gifts, particularly souvenirs acquired during travels or visits to various regions. The term is a combination of the Japanese words “omi” (to give) and “yage” (souvenir).

Omiyage serves as a gesture of appreciation and a way to share experiences with friends, family, or colleagues.

What Is the Meaning of Omiyage at the Workplace?

The workplace is one of the most common settings where souvenirs find their place is the workplace. Whether it's a business trip, vacation, or a return to one's hometown, individuals often share locally acquired items with colleagues and superiors.

By sharing these souvenirs, individuals showcase aspects of their private lives and hometowns but also provide tangible evidence that their time off is not merely leisure but a family-oriented break. It serves as a way to communicate, “I value my time off, and it's not an extravagant affair but a familial commitment.”

When selecting souvenirs for the workplace, it's crucial to avoid unnecessary extravagance that might trigger envy or suspicion. Additionally, items inappropriate for a professional setting or not suitable for children may be less than ideal choices.

The core of souvenirs in the workplace lies in the act of “distribution.” Souvenirs become a tool for building trust within the group. Distributing souvenirs serves a dual purpose: sharing the gains and pleasures and, importantly, demonstrating loyalty to the group.

The Business of Omiyage

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Wherever you travel within Japan, you will stumble upon omiyage shops, usually located near stations and around the most popular tourist attractions. These shops are packed with boxes and boxes in different sizes, containing single-serving sweets, rice crackers, mochi, cookies, fruits, and nuts, and wrapped in colorful and eye-catching packaging.

The market for souvenir confectionery grew consistently through 2019, propelled by robust demand from inbound visitors and an uptick in travel and business-related activities. The domestic market size for souvenir confectioneries surpassed 400 billion yen in 2019.

A significant contributor to this growth is the spending behavior of foreign tourists in Japan. According to the “Travel Consumption of Foreign Visitors to Japan During Their Stay in Japan” report released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 2018, a substantial 40% of foreign tourists' travel consumption, equivalent to 1,639.8 billion yen, was allocated to shopping, particularly for souvenirs. Within this shopping category, confectioneries accounted for approximately 9.7%, translating to 158.9 billion yen. This data reflects not only the economic significance of souvenir confectioneries but also the widespread appeal and recognition of Japanese sweets on the global stage.

COVID-19 hit the omiyage market very hard: the sharp decline in the number of tourists from abroad, coupled with reduced opportunities for domestic travel, homecomings, and business trips, has led to a substantial contraction in the market.

In 2020, the market size plummeted to 230 billion yen, marking a significant decrease to 57% of the previous year's level. The adverse effects of the pandemic have caused a considerable setback in the souvenir confectionery sector, emphasizing the vulnerability of industries reliant on tourism and travel-related activities.

Thanks to the recovery of traditional transportation hubs like airports and train stations in 2021, the souvenir confectionery market started expanding again, with a substantial 105.7% increase compared to the challenges faced in 2020.

The Most Loved Omiyage Loved by Japanese

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Omiyage boxes come in so many different flavors and sizes it can be to choose. First, consider how many coworkers you want to share your omiyage with and pick up the box according to the number of pieces: from as small as 6-piece boxes to huge 36-piece ones.

The most popular omiyage in Japan vary depending on different rankings, but some classics that remain a staple between omiyage choices are:

  1. Shirokoibito, from Hokkaido
  2. Marusei butter sandwich, from Hokkaido
  3. Yatsuhashi, from Kyoto
  4. Zunda mochi, from Miyazaki
  5. Eel pies, from Shizuoka

Omiyage: A Cultural Tradition in the Workplace

In conclusion, the cherished Japanese tradition of “omiyage," rooted in the thoughtful act of giving souvenirs, holds profound significance in both personal and professional spheres. While serving as a means to express gratitude and share experiences, the workplace becomes a common ground for this tradition.

Despite challenges faced by the omiyage market, such as the substantial setback in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, there is optimism for recovery.

With various flavors and sizes, omiyage boxes offer a delightful dilemma, showcasing the enduring appeal of this cultural practice.

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