I remember when I was first getting ready to come to Japan, and I had no idea what to get my coworkers for omiyage (souvenirs). This is one of the things that everyone on the JET Program talks about, because bringing souvenirs to a new workplace is not really common back home. We all want to make sure we don’t offend people of another culture before we even have a chance to get to know them. “This is a totally different culture!” they say, “And this is your chance to give them a great first impression!” Way to bring on the stress, you know?
The good thing is, while your coworkers probably are expecting omiyage, they are not expecting anything big. You might be thinking about getting them keychains or small knick-knacks from your hometown, because these are things that will last; I remember thinking that if I got them food, they’d just gobble it right up and forget about it. But honestly, a small cookie or candy is all my coworkers expected. Food is by far the most common omiyage within Japan when people go on business trips. It’s easy, enjoyable, and most of all, takes up no space once you eat it. And in Japan, we all know we can use our space.
So breathe easy – all you need is some food. You may want to bring something more “special” for your boss and/or supervisor, and that’s a good idea. In those cases a small, tangible souvenir such as a keychain is nice. I’ve heard people recommend small bottles of liquor too, but it depends on how much space you have in your suitcase. For everyone else, here’s some suggestions:
Chocolates – all you need is a box with enough chocolates in it to give one piece to everyone. If you can find a regional maker, that’s great too – I’m American so I don’t have much of a frame of reference, but if you were from say, San Francisco, a box of Ghirardelli would be a great idea. If everything is individually wrapped, even better.
Candy - this is much the same idea, but maybe even easier to buy because you can get a lot of candy in bulk. Try to get them something they’ve never had before – peanut butter is not common in Japan, so see if they’ll try some Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (Hershey’s products are a great idea if you’re American – as long as you are fine with pushing “sub-quality” chocolate on everyone hehe). I’m from New Jersey so I’ve gotten my coworkers a box of salt water taffy before. I don’t even like the stuff, but it’s so regional that it goes over quite well.
Cakes - well, something like Twinkies or Hostess cakes might be interesting, even if I personally am not a fan. You’ll want something that will keep for about a week, since it will take about that long to get to Japan, go through Tokyo Orientation, and get to your placement. Tastykakes are a regional snack cake maker near my hometown, so that’s something I brought once.
On timing: don’t be stressed about bringing your omiyage the very first time you meet your coworkers. You’ll be arriving during summer break, so the majority of teachers will be busy with other things anyway. You can wait a while to bring your omiyage in – just try to make sure it’s a day when your principal is in
Any other ideas for omiyage? Post them in the comments!