I still have two weeks until the beginning of the CLS program, but I’m totally freaking out! What’s primarily on my mind right now is the huge amount of things that need to get done before I head to D.C. for pre-departure orientation. I am a huge worry-wart; I fret over big things as well as little things, such as getting my bank stuff sorted out as well as getting my hair trimmed. I don’t want to have anything left to deal with once I head to D.C. and officially launch into the CLS program!
If I could have it my way, I would pack everything. Because I’m an artist I like to be surrounded by things that I like and things that inspire me. I love having tons of books and small objects (I’m an art toy/plushie collector…) around me to leaf through or examine while I’m thinking or searching for ideas. I also like keeping all of my Japanese language and culture textbooks, course packets, dictionaries, and other materials around me. Even ones from years ago! This is probably because I’m worried about getting stuck in a situation where I can’t communicate or can’t recall some piece of grammar or vocabulary.
However, the reality is that I need to pack at lightly as humanly possible, so I need to avoid bringing unnecessary things. This is for practicality’s sake, as I don’t want to be “that kid” whose bags are over the weight limit. However, it’s also because I know I am going to buy a lot of stuff in Japan, which will all need to fit back into my bags before I return home. This will probably include a lot of language-learning related materials, new clothes, books, etc, but also the massive amounts of souvenirs and gifts I will need to bring home for my family and friends.
Speaking of souvenirs, I actually need to bring a bunch of souvenirs to Japan, because of certain gift-giving traditions in Japan that we don’t quite have here in the States. This includes buying a bunch of omiyage before I head off in two weeks.
Omiyage（おみやげ）is the Japanese term for gifts given to friends, family, coworkers, etc. when one returns from a trip, or gifts given to the host when you visit someone’s home. When a Japanese person goes on a vacation, to a domestic destination or abroad, it is typical to bring back gifts that are a “specialty” item, like a certain kind of food that you can only get in that place, or other gifts with names and insignia printed on them, which also can only be bought at that place or region. When one visits a Japanese person’s home, it is customary to bring some sort of cake or other food item in thanks for their hospitality. Or, if you stay at someone’s home overnight (such as staying with a host family), you should bring a nice, but humble gift for each member of the family. All of these types of gifts are considered omiyage.
However, gift-giving in Japan should not be taken lightly, and is a serious social obligation and expectation. It is a part of Japanese culture that demonstrates the Japanese people’s concern for showing empathy, appreciation, and humbleness to people around them who support and help them throughout life. It is common to give gifts regularly not only to family members and close friends, but also to superiors at work or teachers/senpai at school who have given you guidance or various other forms of help. It’s important to reciprocate any favors you receive by giving quality gifts! My Japanese teacher at CMU told us in class that when Japanese people go on vacation, one of their biggest concerns is buying omiyage to bring back home. If they don’t get the souvenir shopping done quickly, they are likely to worry about it for the entire trip. It’s no joke!
There are many stores in Japan solely dedicated to omiyage, kind of like we have souvenir shops here in the U.S., but to a much greater extent. Check out this omiyage e-mall, where you can order “souvenirs” from different parts of the world (I’m guessing in case you forgot, or just wasn’t convenient to buy it while you were on vacation).
In this case, I have been advised to bring omiyage to give to teachers, friends, and other people I will meet during my stay in Himeji that may help me or give me guidance in one way or another. I bought a bunch of small (but nice!) souvenirs from my university store, which have the university’s name and colors on them. I also plan to get some “Baltimore” themed things (old bay seasoning?) that are considered a “specialty” of my home town. These sorts of things are typical omiyage items, and things that Japanese people will appreciate.
But enough sidenotes on Japanese culture… I have a ridiculous amount of errands to run and packing to get done!