Jul 11, 2019

Mastering the Omiyage Game

When you work for a Japanese company you will sooner or later come into contact with omiyage culture at the workplace. Omiyage are small souvenirs that, in Japan, you give to your colleagues when you come back from vacation. Omiyage might be considered as a sort of apology as you might have caused colleagues additional work during your absence.

Most of the time omiyage are cookies or other sweets with ingredients that your holiday destination is famous for. You can find them in souvenir shops at almost all tourist spots. Mostly they are rather larger boxes that contain a certain number of sweets or items that are all wrapped separately so you can distribute them easily. 

Mastering the Omiyage Game  photo

Omiyage boxes at a shop in Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture

However, it is not as simple as it sounds. There are certain rules regarding how omiyage are distributed and to who you are supposed to distribute them to. Unfortunately, these rules differ from company to company, so there is no general rule that is always applicable. I have worked in a few different companies and experienced three different ways of distributing.

1. Put them onto the table in a common area

At one workplace there was a common area where you could get coffee and free drinks. There was a small table there, too. When someone brought some omiyage to work, they would simply put them on the table and leave a small note with their name and a short message. Everyone that came by and wanted to eat something could just take a piece. I liked this method because it was quick and if someone didn’t like it, they could simply ignore it.

2. Hand them to everyone separately

At another office, it was the rule that you would go to everyone’s desk and hand each colleague a piece separately. If a colleague was not at their desk you would simply leave it on the desk

This method is quite time consuming and you also have to talk to those colleagues that you are not very fond of. Also, if someone does not like the souvenir you brought they still have to take one as it would be impolite to refuse.

Depending on the size of the company there could also be a rule as to whether you distribute your souvenirs to all of your colleagues or only the people in your department.

3. Handing it over to the person in charge in general affairs

At some companies, it is common practice that you just hand your souvenirs to someone in the general affairs department and they will take care. For the person that brought the omiyage, this is the most stress-free method.

If you join a new company and you are not sure how omiyage are handled, just wait and see how other employees handle it. It is also perfectly fine to ask someone as nobody expects you to know how everything works right from the beginning.



Hi, I’m Eli. I’m from Germany and moved to Japan a few years ago. I am a typical nerd and like collecting Pokémon merchandise.Follow me on twitter (@hannari_eri) for the latest nerd News from Tokyo. I also write a blog in German over here. https://lifeinjapanisstrange.wordpress.com/