Sunday, January 09, 2005

Cultural obligations-- omiyage

Here's a little cultural somethin' somethin' for you all.

One of the great banes of my trip back was the overhanging knowledge that I would have to find and bring back to Japan omiyage. Omiyage is a small gift (souvenir) that one brings to their co-workers or family or friends upon return from a trip (also when you start a new job, but they are forgiving of gaijin). Oftentimes it is a food, such as a cake or crackers or candy. Omiyage is also given to neighbors when one moves into a new place.

Now I'm not opposed to gift giving. I like giving gifts, but I hate giving gifts under pressure. I had 44 teachers at my school and 10 office co-workers, plus a church to bring back omiyage for. That is a lot o' stuff. Jared (my co-worker) had forewarned me that last year when he went home he apparently didn't bring back good enough omiyage and was somewhat shunned at school for it. Peter told me that his school actually gave him $100 to bring back good omiyage for his English teachers. So all this to say that I was feeling some pressure to perform.

As I was at home I walked around the great halls of Sams, where I figured I would be able to find 60+ omiyage items fairly easily. I ultimately setled on Twinkies, my favorite American snack cake. So I bought 3 24-packs of Twinkies.

Yep... I will never do that again. First of all, they took up way too much room in my bags. Second of all, I had several that didn't survive the trip back to Japan (easily smooshible). You live you learn. I think my teachers will like them. I also brought back a bag of candy bar miniatures for church and Bath and Bodyworks antibacterial hand lotions for my English teachers. I think that should have me covered.

While I think gift giving is a well and nice, I don't like when it is mandated. Too much pressure! However it is nice when you're on the receiving end. ;) Just another example of cultural demands and conformity when living and working in Japan.


crittermer said...

Next time you should take Cadberry Cream eggs.=)

jettybetty said...

Where you able to make some exotic desert with those scrambled twinkies--you could call it Texas Mousse or something?

English Professor said...

I think it's a lovely custom--I love it when dinner guests show up with a small bouquet, a nice hand lotion, or a bottle of wine; it just makes me feel appreciated, and I always do the same for them. Of course, I've never lugged around Twinkies before!

We host a Japanese college student each year for ten days, and of course they show up with wonderful gifts: a paper lantern, sake glasses, carved chopsticks, candies. When we traveled in Europe, people advised us to take small Texas souvenirs to hand out to people who helped us in some way: Texas magnets, lapel pins, even a few bandanas. Folks loved them! Everybody knows Texas--maybe you could grab some local goodies next time you're home.

I found your site from the Copes'. Best wishes to you in Japan!