In Japan the word souvenirs can be translated as "Omiyage" お土産.
I knew about this a bit before I came, thanks to my embassies introduction. In Japan, buying Omiyage while your away on holiday & business trips to give to your co-workers is a normal thing. Generally the Omiyage are not that expensive in Japan (１０００円ー２０００円） When I go on holiday around Japan I usually grab some Omiyage for my co-workers just before I leave the city.
I say all this just to give you an idea of the culture you'll be coming into. The teachers aren't expecting you to give them anything, it is just a nice gesture and shows you understand the culture. As in Japan, you don't need to bring a expensive Omiyage from your home country. Usually Omiyage here are boxes (20-30 pieces) of small food items local to places in Japan. If you have some peculiar food in your country it might be a good idea to try and find a small box of them.
I went to a local souvenir store and brought many small cheap items (not tacky, but cheap). I brought a nice Paua shell letter opener for the Kouchou-Sensei (principal), and a small plate with a scene on it for Kyoto-Sensei (head teacher). For the teachers I worked with I brought small key chains (accessory culture here is big ;) of New Zealand animals/famous things. I brought some local soaps (Kiwi fruit soap, Manuka honey) for my supervisor (some Japanese will regularly use their bath).
So pretty much, I brought some small interesting items for the key people i'll be working with. You can't buy something for every teacher, so if you can bring something to share (like I said, 20-30 piece pack deal) then that'll be good. Also, some people may have many schools, if that is the case then maybe just buy small things for a few key people or just a pack of home country food to share around each school. Also, check about how many staff members you have in your staff room (職員室 Shokuin shitsu). I usually need about 2 packs of Omiyage to go around my main school. Yet, my previous school 1 pack would easily suffice.
Also, if you want to try some Japanese, this phrase might come in use as you hand someone a small gift: これはつまらない物ですが、どうぞ。 Said like: Kore wa tsumaranai mono desu ga, douzo. Literal: "This is a uninteresting thing, but please take it." Translation: "This is only a small thing, but please take it"
Anyways, nothings to hard about this. Just understand that it is nice to include people in where you have been by buying them small Omiyage (also you might be involved in good conversations as you hand out your first Omiyage to staff).
Let me know if you have any other tips.
A few things I wish I brought
- Weird food that rivals the Japanese Natto (fermented soybean). If they try an inflict Natto on you then whip out some of your own countries terrible food to let them try.
- Some crazy as tea flavors. They love tea here, so if you have some crazy as tea flavors, it might be good to take out on a rainy day.
- Chocolate. The chocolate portions you can buy are pretty small here, it might be nice to surprise someone with how generous the chocolate portions are in other countries (bear in mind that it may be frying hot summer when you arrive).
- As I said above, small local foods that all the teachers can try.
- Bring a few local recipes with you. Cook them up one day and bring them along to a party or share it at work.
- Energy drinks are a lot different here. I was surprised to find they were nothing like "Red Bull", V Energy drink, etc, etc (I have actually been able to find Red Bull in a few convenience stores). Still, I miss my Guarana hit.