THROUGH THE FIRE: Omiyage

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By MARI NAKANO
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Whenever I used to go play at a friend’s house, my mother made sure I always brought some kind of omiyage, or gift, as a gesture of appreciation for having me over.  She emphasized that it was only proper to bring something to others, wherever I go. To this day, I do my best to make sure I bring an omiyage, especially if I am being invited to someone’s home.

An omiyage can be viewed simply as a souvenir, but for many, an omiyage is part of a larger philosophy of giving and expressing your mindfulness of what others are doing for you. An omiyage can be anything really – flowers, food, a small figurine, a card, etc.; however, to be considered an omiyage, it should be something that is given from the heart. That being said, it doesn’t even have to be a tangible object, but more so something you want to share and that shows you are considerate of your hosts, caretakers and friends.

An omiyage can serve as a metaphor for much larger things. It is not only about giving, but it is also about acknowledging what you are receiving. The word encapsulates the idea of being more mindful and conscious not only of the nowness of a meeting, but the energy, preparation and effort that may have led to that very moment. For example, when someone invites you to their home, they are not just asking you to enter their property. Most likely, they are cleaning for you, spending money on you, preparing a meal for you and thinking about how to accommodate you comfortably. They are expending a lot of energy to have your presence.
Of course, a host should never expect an omiyage and a guest should never feel pressured to bring something, but if you value the omiyage as a philosophy, it perhaps is important to do your best to look at an omiyage as a constant practice, as opposed to just something to do for the sake of being proper.  Doing your best to be mindful is a significant part of the teachings of Buddha, and an omiyage is just a tiny way of practicing everyday mindfulness. In the bigger picture, there are so many more things of which to be mindful, not just as a Buddhist, but also as an everyday living breathing person.
I think if you can practice the art of giving, you are not only allowing yourself to transmit your good spirits to the world, but you can also serve as a vehicle who encourages others to give and share as well.  My mother was an example to me and I hope that I can be one for my children. To receive an omiyage is always a joy for anyone, not because it’s a gift, but because the receiver knows you have been thinking of him or her. Isn’t always nice to know when someone is thinking of you?
I am thankful for many people in my life, and I am thankful especially when I meet others who are open with their hearts. If an omiyage is an action, then it is one that is constant and cyclical. To give is to receive is to give is to receive and so forth.  It is my hope that you partake in maintaining this cycle with the ways in which you know how to give of yourself.
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Mari Nakano can be reached by e-mail. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.
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