The Making of Omiyage: Factors Behind the Commercial Success of Omiyage Products

Conference: The Asian Conference on Arts & Humanities (ACAH2022)
Title: The Making of Omiyage: Factors Behind the Commercial Success of Omiyage Products
Stream: History/Historiography
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Richard Cheung, University of Oxford, United Kingdom


When travelling to popular tourist destinations in Japan, one will always find a plethora of merchandise sold as souvenirs in its vicinity. Souvenirs have a long history in Japan, and even today, it is common for working adults to buy local merchandise as souvenirs or omiyage for their colleagues upon returning to work from vacation. Omiyage gift-giving dates back to the Edo period (1600-1868) when a burgeoning tourist industry sprouted from the increasing commercialisation of pilgrimages. This essay examines how regional products were advertised as ideal omiyage to pilgrims and considers the factors that made an omiyage commercially successful. As literacy spread across the country, printed materials were especially effective at advertising omiyage. As such, guidebooks, ukiyo-e prints, and banzuke rank tables form the main corpus of sources consulted. This essay focuses on four products that featured prominently in the printed materials that promoted the Ise Pilgrimage, the largest in the country. These products were the Arimatsu dyed fabrics of Narumi, clams of Kuwana, hinawa strings of Seki, and combs of Tsuchiyama. This essay ultimately argues that utility, locality and durability were the most advertisable traits of omiyage along the Ise Pilgrimage. The traditional techniques of advertising touristic products reveal that omiyage producers placed much attention on the values and needs of the consumer. The success of these techniques can be a guide for us to reimagine the Japanese tourist industry as the country emerges from the COVID pandemic.

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