What to offer to a Japanese person

A certain number of travelers know the Japanese tradition of 土産 miyage, offering a souvenir to its closest relationships. In Japan, the gift culture is important and divided into several categories. Here are two of the main ones:

  • omiyage: essential travel souvenirs that generate a huge profit each year for the whole country
  • temiyage: the gift offered to a host

This article discusses a sort of mix between these two. Before traveling in Japan, it is advised to prepare some gifts to offer to your relationships there: friends of the family, hosts such as home stay or guides. Moreover, it provides a way to overcome the first contact with a person and to start the exchange on an excellent tone.

The price value of the gift has little or no importance: a gift will please the recipient regardless of how much it cost, especially if it is from your home country. In fact, if the price of the gift is too high, it could be embarrassing for the Japanese recipient, therefore it is wise to choose something that is not too pricey.

For any gift, do not forget that in this country with kawaii culture, the outside counts as much as the inside; therefore, the packaging process must not be done at the last minute, and the wrapping should also be done carefully.

Do not be hurt if the receiver does not open it immediately; Japanese people will sometimes just accept the package but wait to open it until after you have left; this being a polite custom. If this is the case, but you are willing to explain your gesture, you absolutely can ask them to open it with you.

Here are some ideas that will impress Japanese people. 

Food

It is the type of present that immediately comes to mind, and for good reason: Japanese people are not only in love with cooking and sweets, but they are also very curious about what is eaten outside of their country.

Therefore, regional products will please for sure. In addition to tasting, you will be able to explain how the product is made by producers of your region. Start by researching among your local specialties and then enlarge the research to national specialties: English tea, scones, peanut butter, maple syrup, cookies, etc.

Obviously, brands that are rarely found or do not exist in Japan will gain more success; for example, Heinz, Cadbury, Kellogs, Reese’s and Hershey’s. However, be careful, as some Western brands succeed in marketing to Japan, such as Nutella, Lipton and Starbucks. These can represent nice presents, but not so exotic in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where they can be easily found.

High-end, diverse types of savory food like smoked meat or fish, and some cooked specialties can be excellent ideas. Naturally, regional drinks and liquors will accompany these presents nicely, such as wine, whiskey and others. Pay attention to quantity and types of alcohol authorized for import in order to avoid having them blocked at customs.

We can also recommend sweets and confectioneries, such as nougats, jams or even cream of chestnut. Other anecdotal ideas will delight Japanese people: some funny aperitif biscuits or snacks. Moreover canned sardines and mackerel may amuse your hosts.

Finally, we would recommend you to avoid cheese with a creamy texture, as these may be seized at the airport or when arriving in Japan by Japanese customs. However, hard-texture cheese can be really appreciated.

These tastes that are new and stronger than what they are used to will promise some amusing and friendly exchanges.

In all cases, be careful about perishable dates by calculating the day of meeting your friends/hosts to avoid offering a product that is not fresh. If you can, take a small cooler to keep your produce in during your flight.

Other products

Beyond food, numerous other gifts and decorative objects will please a lot of Japanese people, as long as they are not too big. Indeed, this is wise, as your luggage cannot carry big objects and neither can Japanese apartments, especially in big cities.

The local aspect has great importance, especially if the gift says "made in" or "handmade" from your home country. A postal card from your region or capital city will be appreciated. If you stop by a big city of your country, get as many souvenirs as you can (for example, that say I Love New York or London Calling on bags, key rings, mugs) that still have a strong value in Japan.

More broadly, anything with English writing on it will be loved by Japanese: a local journal or magazine (as long as it is targeted to the recipient: cooking, fashion, animals, cars, lifestyles, etc.) A comic book based on your country’s history will raise interest as well.

A calendar, flag or map will also satisfy. For kids, focus on a small toy associated with your country.

As of accessories, you can give scarves and handmade accessories of all sorts: jewels will surely please women, but not so much earrings as only a few Japanese women wear them. Common gifts, such as cowboy hats or New York caps may also be appreciated!

Finally, it would be impossible to leave out cosmetics, perfumes and other bath products. Something exotic—for example, a renowned brand—will ravish your hosts. If you are on a limited budget or unsure on the type of product your hosts would enjoy, it is always possible to bring several samples.

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