Omiyage, What Makes the Best Gift?

  • FOOD
  • Omiyage

    Japan is famous for its food, some of which has been deemed a national treasure by the World Heritage Foundation. Any town or city you travel in Japan is bound to feature its own number of specialty foods, be they sweets, dried fruits, dried or fresh seafood, or rice crackers. Some of them can only be found, or are only produced in that particular locality. Thanks in part to this, there is an age-old custom in Japan of bringing a gift back from your travels, be they abroad or within Japan. This “souvenir” is called an omiyage, and it’s most commonly a food item the respective area is famous for.

    The Ultimate Gift

    Omiyage comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Mochi, an old Japanese treat classically featuring a soft, sticky dough pounded from sweet rice, and often filled with sweet red beans (but not always), is one of the most popular. The style and flavor of mochi varies greatly from region to region, and even town to town. Specially flavored mochi are even made to match the season, one of the most popular examples being “sakura mochi”, a sweet, pink rice cake similar in flavor to cherry and wrapped in a leaf. Ichigo-daifuku is another seasonal treat featuring fresh strawberries wrapped in the rice cake. Yomogi mochi is one of my personal favorites, green in color, and infused with the spicy, slightly anise-like flavor of the yomogi plant, which is believed to be medicinal, and was once used to treat a variety of ailments.

    Mochi of all types can be found in most major train stations, in shops and booths that feature an array of different omiyage.


    In Nagoya, you can find Nagoya’s famous style of chicken wings, called “tebasaki”.


    In Mie prefecture, you’ll often find “ebi pie”, a sweet pastry flavored with a large shrimp famously caught in Ise Bay.


    From Tokyo, travelers often bring back a pudding-filled cake in the shape of a banana known across the country as “Tokyo Banana”, sold all over the famous Tokyo Station.


    A famous omiyage from Hokkaido might be a rum-raisin buttercream sandwiched between shortbread cookies, called Marseille Butter Sandwiches.


    Okinawa is famous for an especially deep-red sweet potato they make into little sweet potato tarts that are exceptionally delicious.