Every region of Japan has a wealth of omiyage. These might be items to take home as your own souvenirs, but perhaps more characteristic are the individually packaged snacks meant to be shared by a large group, such as your colleagues. Though it is not enforced, some may consider it a pain to spend money on such things so as not to be the jerk who never brings back omiyage, but I find it fun to try to find things nobody has brought back yet. Sometimes this can be difficult, as every place has cheap cookies that taste the same all around the country and just have different mascots stamped on them. But sometimes you find something everyone is actually excited to receive.

On the flip side, sometimes you get the same thing more than once, and sometimes it’s from visitors to the office who have brought local products. There are some I am always excited to see, and Furoshiki Warabi Mochi is one of them.

A furoshiki is a wrapping cloth often made of decorative material historically used for wrapping your clothes when you visit a public bath, but which is now used in many aspects of Japanese culture. In the tea ceremony we make extensive use of them wrapping boxes which contain fine tools or for bagging up our purses and other items we don’t need in the tea room while enjoying the ceremony, and I use them at home for wrapping my kimono supplies. They are a very popular gift item, both as very Japanese-like souvenirs from Japan (especially given the wealth of designs and the fine silks they are often made of), and especially as wrapping for gifts. Instead of paper which is just going to be thrown again, furoshiki can be used again and again, and there are many stylish ways to wrap everything from boxes to wine bottles to oddly shaped objects. A furoshiki is now not only a very useful and pretty piece of fabric, but the sight of it almost screams something about gifts and gift-giving culture.

Warabi Mochi is a dumpling made with bracken starch. It’s extremely soft, not as chewy as gyuhi or tough like mochi made from rice flour. It is often covered in kinako, soybean flour (more like powder) which is lightly sweet and much more appetizing than the translated name suggests.

So what gives this its San’in flavor? The pear syrup you put on top! After all, Tottori is Japan’s ultimate pear spot.

Individual servings include three tiny blocks of warabi mochi, a packet of pear syrup, and a wooden stick with which to cleanly eat the sticky and powdery confection.

Doesn’t that look appetizing, especially at 3 in the afternoon when your brain is crying for a little confectionery boost? Stab those delectable morsels and enjoy the mix of fine powder, smooth syrup, and soft, soft, soft mochi textures.

As for San’in region gifts, I suggest things like magatama, wagashi, or Gegege no Kitaro goods.

Or wagashi shaped like magatama, that works too.

There is a familiar dance whenever people want to do something for you or give you something.

“Here, allow me.”
“No, you musn’t!”
“It’s fine!”
“I can’t allow it!”
“I told you, I’m doing it!”
“Absolutely not!”
“I insist!”
“But I couldn’t possibly accept…”
“Here you go.”
“But… well, thank you ever so much.”
“No, no, it was my pleasure.”
“I don’t deserve it; you’re so very generous.”
“You’re welcome.”
“How could such a humble person as myself come to be graced by your generosity?”
“Don’t mention it.”
“I shall treasure this all the days of my life–”
“Seriously. Don’t mention it. Ever again.”
“….. Uh, right. Thanks.”

In the US, it would probably go more like this:

“Here, allow me.”
“No, you don’t have to.”
“No, I insist.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“No problem.”

I mean, what is the giver going to do? Say, “Really? Well, okay!” and not follow through on their offer?

I’m happy to treat people from time to time and depending on the circumstance, especially considering how many times (many, many times!) I’ve been treated. I simply prefer to cut the dance short–I hope I’m doing enough dancing to be polite when I’m on the receiving end, though!

Gift-giving is a big part of interpersonal relations in Japan, but the nuances can make many Westerners uncomfortable. It can even be sticky for Japanese people, as you can see in Natsume Soseki’s novel “Botchan” in which the money for a meal the narrator was treated to is left on his coworker’s desk for weeks with both parties refusing to move it due to its social implications. On a more forcefully friendly note, I once interpreted for a couple of guests and they were given a special item, which they had originally asked if they could find in a gift shop. They really liked it, and wanted to get a second one for a friend, but insisted on finding it in a gift shop and buying it themselves (an understandable notion in Western manners). It turns out it was a limited edition item and no longer sold, so they were gifted a second one, much to the joy of the hosts and to the vague guilt of the visitors.

I’ve heard some other advice that is common in both Japan and a few other cultures–don’t complement your host’s possessions, or they may be inclined to give them to you! A friend of mine has a little collection of accessories that formerly belonged to old ladies thanks to her dishing out of compliments. Then again, though I said nothing about it in the conversation I got into with a lady on a train once, she gave me her necklace when we parted ways. I only had half a chocolate bar from the US to give her in return.

Instead of refusing a gift, which may make the giver embarrassed that you didn’t like it, it’s best practice to be reciprocal. This is a sticky situation when, say, I’m given something expensive by my Tea-sensei who runs a shop of very fine Japanese goods. I don’t trust my taste enough to get her something Japanese in origin! I brought a lot of little Colorado gifts with me when I first came to Matsue, but I suppose I should have packed a few just-in-case nicer gifts, too. (Thank you, Mom and friends for getting a couple of them to me!).