Omiyage and meibutsu

In Japan the walkways of major rail stations are lined with shops selling stacks of gift wrapped boxes of cookies or sweets. On some Shinkansen or bullet trains a woman in a uniform pushes a cart down the aisle selling the same kind of boxes. Outside temples and other sightseeing places there are always shop selling key chains and that kind of thing, but there are also shop selling gift wrapped boxes of food. And it’s all part of the Japanese cycle of omiyage and meibutsu.

Technically, omiyage means souvenir. In Japanese it is written with the kanji for “earth” and the kanji for “product,” meaning that it represents a product from a particular part of the earth, or region. But omiyage doesn’t refer to souvenirs that you buy for yourself. It specifically refers to gift items that you bring home from a trip for your family, your boss, your co-workers, or anyone else you can think of. Positive relationships in Japan revolve around the presentation of omiyage.

img_2594The most popular form of omiyage is food — cookies, sweets, tea, and so on. But sometimes omiyage are simply thoughtful gifts that reflect the fact that someone went on a trip and brought something back for you. For example, a Japanese friend brought me this gift of a pair of hyoten gourds with rabbits and gilt decoration from a high end department store in Hokkaido; they signifiy that when she was in Hokkaido she thought about me and my hashioki collection.

This set shows five famous places that a tourist would visit — or long to visit — in Kyoto. From left to right on the top row is Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji aka The Temple img_2616of the Golden Pavillion, and the rock garden at Ryooan-ji. On the bottom row the pagoda at Toji temple is on the left, and the Phoenix Hall at the Byodon-in in Uji is on the right. This set may be the next best thing to being there.



This uchiwa fan commemorates Daimonji, an annual festival in August in Kyoto where a giant kanji character meaning “large” or “great” is created with bonfires on a mountain overlooking the city. Most Japanese would look at this hashioki and immediately think of Kyoto.


img_2595This fan-shaped hashioki may be the ultimate omiyage because it shows a picture of Ginkakuji, Kyoto’s famous Silver Pavillion, where it was actually purchased. Unfortunately, it doesn’t convey any of the aesthetics that the Silver Pavillion is known for.


Not too much thinking is required to connect this hashioki with a fish with its source. While the design is neither unique or distinctive, the flip side of the piece identifies its place of origin.  I don’t remember seeing this fish on exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum, so it’s not as good as the souvenir hashioki from the Atami Museum, which feature motifs from National Treasures in their collection (please see my post “Smart Merchandising” from January 2016).

Some omiyage are meibutsu, meaning products that are famous for originating in a particular region. Meibutsu is written with two kanji characters meaning “famous” and “thing.”

For example, the Hakone-Odawara area near Mt. Fuji is famous for the yosegi-zaiku wood mosaic or marquetry done in that area. This rabbit with the perky ears demonstrates wood of different colors from different kinds of trees are glued together, while the block pieces with the indentations in the middle show how different woods are also glues into oblong rods, and then cut to make hashioki, boxes, coasters, and other products. Shops in the Hakone area are filled with examples of this famous local craft.

This ceramic bird is glazed in a style of ceramic decoration that is associated with the city of Kanazawa.



This set of four luminous glass hashioki are, or at one time were, the signature pieces of the Morimoto Restaurant in Philadelphia, which is named for its master chef/owner. Actually, I’m not sure if these are meibutsu, omiyage,  or a consolation prize; they were presented to us after a waiter spilled a glass a beer on my husband during dinner.

Hashioki are a great meibutsu or omiyage because they’re inexpensive, don’t spoil, and small enough to bring enough home for everyone. That’s especially true when they’re wrapped up like this hashioki.


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