What are common gifts or omiyage to give my fellow employees?

In Japan is it very common to give gifts to fellow employees. All the people in your office or working group for instance. This is usually done when you go on vacation or holiday. You are no longer at work instead you’ve left your colleagues alone while you enjoy yourself. When you come back it’s customary to give each person a small gift. This is reflected a tourist resorts in Japan where you can buy boxes or small presents.

For a Japanese employer it is also customary to give gifts to your boss at the start of each season. Though this custom is not a prevalent as giving omiyage after travels. If some one in the work place has gone out of the way to help you, such as your boss giving you extras days off or arranging time off at short notice, then gifts while not expected will be appreciated.

When giving larger gifts nearly all Japanese men like whiskey, especially older Japanese men. If it’s foreign then even better. For women you’re probably best getting something like tea or bath salts.

If you’re a foreigner coming to a job in Japan for the first time then you will often be expected to bring gifts. This is especially true if you are a teacher, doubly so if you are coming to work as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).

There are two main rules for giving omiyage.

1. Small
2. Each present is basically the same.

Typical omiyage from adlaw on flickr
Japanese omiyage usually include things like an individually wrapped biscuit or small cake. When giving out omiyage its common just to place one present on each persons desk. If the persons occupying buying the desk they’ll say thank you but if they’re not it doesn’t matter. Alternatively if there’s a tea lady, who makes tea for the office and copies paper – she may be willing / responsible for dolling out omiyage in her own arcane ways. It’s not uncommon in a reasonably large office of 50 or so people to see desks littered with little presents after a long weekend. Omiyage from inside of Japan is therefore a piece of cake buy one of the big boxes full of biscuits or whatever and bring it back to work – job done.

If you’re coming from abroad into a teaching position you may be fretting about this omiyage you have to bring. It may seem both strange and expensive – well don’t go out of your way to buy trinkets or mini-bottles of local wine, that’s far too expensive from omiyage stuff. If you live in the UK an example of a perfectly fine gift would be a box of 50 or so Jaffa cakes. They’re small light and will fit in your bag and you’re unlikely to have more than 50 members of staff that you will regularly be giving omiyage to. If you can get individually wrapped tea bags – these are also ideal.

Small and edible is the way to go. A biscuit, maybe some cheese or jerky. Japanese people, generally don’t like overly sweet things. Japanese biscuits are often salty and they’re cakes are filled with sweet bean paste or azuki which really isn’t all that sweet. They won’t appreciate super double chocolate fudge sticks – and they’re obviously the poorer for it.
jem Flickr picture of small edibles which would make perfect omiyage if indiviually wrapped.
Japan doesn’t have much in the way of cheese’s and what it does have is generally bland. Extra strong cheddar on some crackers will probably evoke some amusing reactions. Anything spicy is quite unusual for Japan too. Your offices workers will generally be polite and eat what ever you give them – so you can have lots of evil fun if you wish.

You should now have a good idea what makes good omiyage.
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