In my second story about Japan’s obsession with food, I’d like to talk about a dear tradition called Omiyage.
When someone living in Japan had gone on a journey, he or she has to bring something back from it for those who stayed behind. That something is mostly food and there is a thriving industry in Japan of “omiyage” which means “souvenir” but it very often refers to food.
Every town, village, and gathering of more than five houses has some sort of omiyage and not only one form of it. I guess in 99% of all Japanese towns you can buy omiyage that contains red bean paste (anko) in one form of the other and you need a liter of green tea to eat it. Okay, I admit, I am not a fan of this bean paste stuff. There is of course plenty of other produce too, mochi (usually sweet dumplings made from rice flower), osenbei = rice crackers. There is tons of westernized inventions too meanwhile, for example mochi with chocolate in them etc. The Japanese are very inventive when it comes to that.
The omiyage culture is not only present in private life but also in the business world. It’s an unwritten rule that if you go on a business trip somewhere, you have to bring omiyage to the office. When you are in a department where a lot of traveling happens you are lucky and get cookies, crackers and bean paste dumplings on a weekly basis. When people go overseas they of course have to bring stuff as well, usually chocolate that you can buy at every airport in the world and that, needless to say, I prefer to bean paste. But exotic stuff is also welcome. When you went to China you better bring something Chinese and not some boring airport chocolate. I will go to Thailand next week on business trip and I already know what I will bring back: Durian chips 😉
When your department is big, you are bad off. You have to bring enough for everyone. In my former job I had to feed about 10 people, now it’s about 20! Poor me. 😉 Some of the traditional Japanese omiyages actually taste really nice and they are, of course, always formidably packaged. That is one of the many ways in which the Japanese economy sustains itself… Every village has people in bread and butter by producing the omiyage, along with the people who are country wide engaged in producing the packages to put them in.
There is lots of exotic stuff in Japan too of course. Eggs boiled in sulfur hot pools in the Jigokudani (Hell Valley) close to Mt. Fuji for example where volcanic bubbling spews hot water and sulfur into the air. I gotta admit that omiyage is fun. It’s interesting to sample local omiyage produce and to find out which village/area was clever and came up with something unusual.
So, long live the omiyage industry.