In Japan, omiyage (souvenirs) are a big deal. When you take a vacation, it is customary to bring back a gift to your co-workers who ‘held down the fort’ while you were away. Typically, this ‘gift’ should be given to everyone in your office. Now I’m in an office of 30 people, but there’s no need to worry as traditional omiyage typically consists of a small edible treat. The Japanese are practical people. They don’t care to inherit hoards of useless $hit like books of fifty thousand postcards, or a 73rd anniversary commemorative pin. Instead, they prefer to eat their presents. Consequently, you’ll rarely find magnets and shot glasses in gift shops. But you will see boxes of treats and sweets elegantly displayed in front of a dangerous looking woman armed with a vast array of gift wrap weaponry eager to beautifully cover your gracious offerings.
While, I’ve only been rockin’ the work scene for less than two months I have already tasted sweet-flavored mangos from the Philippines, a granola bar from Germany, and countless other morsels of fun from all over Japan. But today’s omiyage just went too far.
While pretending to be working hard at my desk, a sensei (teacher) cordially presented me with a ‘manju,’ a sweet little pastry in the shape of a Japanese maple-leaf. He then uttered his well-prepared English saying, “Hiroshima…very famous.” While I was thankful for his generosity, I thought to myself, “he’s been working all week so when the hell did this guy go to Hiroshima?” But when my supervisor turned to me and said, “The souvenir has already arrived,” it all made sense. So get this kiddies…ni-nensei (11th graders) are going on a school trip next week to Kyoto and Hiroshima. So instead of picking out luscious treats to bring back, they simplied order their omiyage in advance. Sure I enjoy the thought, but what the hell is the point? Even the others were kidding the ni-nensei teachers saying how they no longer needed to go on the trip. So now I’ve been toying around with the idea of ordering omiyage from Uzbekistan. I’ll just let them figure it out for themselves. But I guess this is just as bad as our made in China ‘I Love NY’ t-shirts.