Sunday, October 31, 2021

NAME OR NUMBER: Dealing With Chapters

Zoë Sharp


Back when I wrote my first novel, I think it had about twenty-five chapters, each with scene breaks, plus an epilogue to explain what happened in the aftermath. These days, I’m more likely to write the same number of words but have a hundred and twenty-five chapters.


There’s no doubt that, when you look at the Table of Contents that appears in every eBook, that great long list of sequential numbers is lacking something in appeal.


At one point, it seemed that books always had chapter titles—sometimes instead of numbers, sometimes as well. If you pick up a Margery Allingham, or a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you tend to find chapter titles more often than not.


Some contemporary writers go in for chapter titles, or often use the time and day, or time and place instead. In One Fine Day in The Middle of the Night, Christopher Brookmyre uses a time, location, and a chapter title: ‘09:00 – nether Kilbokie – elite unit assembles’ for example. Or ‘09:50 – Glasgow airport – lost soul in transit’.


The reason this subject came up was because of my current work-in-progress—the follow-up to The Last Time She Died. I usually create separate Word documents for each chapter while I’m writing it. Once it’s more or less done, I drop it into the file containing the entire book so far. It just makes things a bit easier to deal with. Because, when you’re dealing with a third-person, multiple-viewpoint narrative, it’s very easy to get hopelessly lost, I find. So, when I name the file, as well as the chapter number and the character whose POV I’m following, I’ve now also started adding a word or two to tell me what the chapter’s about.


But that’s made me wonder if I should be adding that kind of chapter title into the book. The closest I’ve come to this was in the second Lakes crime thriller, Bones in the River, when I numbered the chapters, but also broke the books into Parts, each labelled with the day of the week. And I did a Charlie Fox short story, ‘Across the Broken Line’, which hopped backwards and forwards in time, so each section was titled to pin that down.


I thought I’d take a quick look through some of the titles written by my fellow Murder Is Everywhere bloggers, to see how they handled the subject of chapters and what to call them.


In Blood Tango, Annamaria Alfieri begins the book in Buenos Aires 1945, and each chapter has a day and date rather than a number. The whole book takes place over twelve days. While Strange Gods has an initial place and date: ‘The Protectorate of British East Africa 1911’ and then goes on to numbered chapters. Annamaria does the same with City of Silver: ‘Potosí – Alto Perú – 1650’ and then we’re on to straightforward numbering.


Cara Black’s long-running Aimée Leduc series, set in Paris, does not have chapter numbers at all. Cara uses the day and approximate time, so Murder in the Marais, for example, begins with ‘Paris: November 1993’, then has ‘Wednesday’ as the Part title, and ‘Wednesday morning’ as the chapter title. A later book, Murder in the Bastille, has ‘Paris: October 1994’, then goes straight into the chapter titles of ‘Monday Evening’, ‘Later Monday Night’, ‘Wednesday Afternoon’, etc. 


Cara’s standalone novel, Three Hours in Paris, has—by its very nature—a compressed timescale. Here Cara sets the scene with ‘Sunday, June 23, 1940 – Nine Days into the German Occupation of Paris – Montmartre, Paris | 6:15 a.m. Paris time’. And then goes on with day, date, location, and time for each chapter following.


Caro Ramsay also uses dated chapters for some of her Anderson and Costello Scottish-set detective series. Absolution, for example, starts with ‘Anna – Glasgow, 1984’, then ‘Alan – Glasgow, 2006’ and moves on through seven days from September 30 to October 7, plus an epilogue. By The Sideman, however, Caro is using numbering, with the date as a sub-title for each chapter. Was this a conscious change?


Leighton Gage, Jeff Siger’s Andreas Kaldis Greek series, Susan Spann's Hiro Hattori series—set in 16th century Japan—my own Charlie Fox novels, and Sujata Massey’s contemporary, Japanese-set Rei Shimura books all use basic chapter numbering. Nice, simple, and it works.


For her Perveen Mistry series, set in 1920s' India, however, Sujata has used the chapter title approach. The opening of The Widows of Malabar Hill has ‘1921 – 1 – A Stranger’s Gaze – Bombay, February 1921’. That seems to cover all the bases!


For the first book in Kwei Quartey’s Emma Djan series, The Missing American, he uses numbered Parts and chapters, with a sub-heading of the date and place: ‘Chapter One – 4th January, Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana’. His Inspector Darko Dawson novel, Murder at Cape Three Points, on the other hand, sticks with chapter numbering.


The Michael Stanleys’ African-set Detective Kubu novels have either numbered chapters or numbered Parts and chapters. But their standalone, Dead of Night uses numbered chapters with Part titles of the places they are set. So Part 1 is Duluth, Minnesota. Part 2 is South Africa, and so on.


For The Last Time She Died, I went with a prologue and then the usual numbering, although I did need sub-headings for dates on some chapters, when I hopped back and forth between what’s happening now, and ten years ago, when the story began.


But still, I’m tempted by those chapter titles. And when I looked up Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer I'm even more tempted. Any one of these would make you want to read that chapter, so I will list some of them without further comment:


1.         Good Morning! You’re Going to Die

2.         The Man with the Metal Bra

3.         Don’t Accept Rides from Strange Relatives

4.         Seriously, the Dude Cannot Drive

5.         I’ve Always Wanted to Destroy a Bridge

6.         Make Way for Ducklings, or They Will Smack You Upside the Head

7.         You Look Great Without a Nose, Really

8.         Mind the Gap, and Also the Hairy Guy with the Axe

9.         You Totally Want the Minibar Key

10.   My Room Does Not Suck

11.   Pleased to Meet You. I will Now Crush Your Windpipe

12.   At Least I’m Not on Goat-Chasing Duty


Not a lot more you can say to that, is there?


This week’s Word of the Week is litost, a Czech word meaning the humiliated despair we feel when someone accidentally reminds us, through their own accomplishments, of everything that has gone wrong with our lives and we become only too aware of the scale of our own inadequacies.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Halloween -- Greek Style



Halloween is tomorrow.   Kwei's post on Wednesday explained the roots of Halloween, and revealed that though few places in the world appear to celebrate it, many do have similar holidays. Greece falls in the latter category, and Kwei's post reminded me of a blog I put up a half-dozen years ago.  I was going to write about how this year the scariest Halloween make-up may be the mask-less look, but feared that might be too political for the times. So, instead, here's my redo of "It's Halloween or Not" in Greece, accompanied by a big and embracing BOO!

In past years I often ended my time in Greece on Halloween.  My reasoning was simple.  Returning to New York City on Halloween meant that many of the same characters I’d grown used to seeing on Mykonos would be out in force on the streets of Manhattan.

Besides, I wasn’t missing out on any Greek ghouls or goblins (at least not of the unelected sort), because Halloween is virtually non-existent in Greece, except by expats for their children and some places catering to tourists.  That’s not meant to suggest Greeks don’t like to party in costume—the ancients invented it.  Modern Greeks do it big time during Apokries, a three-week festival preceding Greek Orthodox Lent (think February), also known as Carnival.  I’ve described those festivities of Lent before (It’s Mardi Gras Time in Greece), but this time I thought I’d concentrate on the costumes.

As reported a few years back on a website called Hubpages :

Adults dress up and throw parties or frequent the town cafes and bars dressed in masks, wigs and funny, scary or risqué costumes. For example men often dress up as outrageous women with high heels, short skirts, huge inflated false boobs and an overdose of lipstick, blusher and false eyelashes. Others may dress up as priests or wear masks of well known politicians, actors or film characters. They often carry props such as plastic battons, streamers, confetti, tins of foam, whistles and clackers; all adding to the rowdy party atmosphere.

Children - even babies - enjoy the fun too of course... masquerade parties are held in villages and schools for the young ones, who dress up in all manner of costumes from witches and warlocks to telly tubbies and angels.

Masqueraders use their disguises and masks to call anonymously at the houses of friends and neighbours, who try to guess their identities.

Cakes and sweets are offered to the masquerading children on these house calls, or shots of whisky or the local fire water to adults in disguise. This is usually a ploy to entice the masquerader to remove his mask to uncover his identity!

 So similarly there is a kind of trick or treating here in Greek Apokries, but ..... they get to do both. The treat is offered - the sweet, cake or whisky, but is then usually followed by the trick - throwing confetti, streamers or foam all around the house (yes I know it's tame, and just in fun, but you try cleaning up tons of the stuff from your carpet!).

At the end of the three-week period Apokries culminates with the Grand Carnival Parades which are held all across Greece. The largest and most famous of which is held in Patras. There are also large parades held in Athens and in Rethymnon, Crete, amongst many others.

I can't wait until NYC is back in full swing, and once again gets to dress up and let loose big time with the Big Apple's famed Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.

But once again this year I’ll be the wilds of New Jersey, wondering if those who stop by in bear, deer, or coyote costume are simply treat seekers dressed in life-like animal couture, or the real deal.  Perhaps I should ask each visitor to grunt, snort, or yip before giving them what they're want, then judge their authenticity from the reactions.  Then again, perhaps that's unwise...after all, two-legged creatures can be notoriously unpredictable.



Jeff’s Events


Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 16:00

ICELAND NOIR, Iðnó Theater

Reykjavic, Iceland

Panelist, Murderous Islands

with Katrin Juliusdottir, Michael Ridpath, William Ryan (Moderator)

Friday, October 29, 2021

Words we could be losing


Here are some old words that are steadily being dropped from the dictionary. And I think some of them should be  used more so that they can be reinstated.


Apricity;   the heat of the sun on a snowy winter day. This is very good for you. Sunshine, at anytime stimulates the pineal gland to do all kinds of endorphin related stuff. Fun stuff. Like throwing snowballs.   Our days here are getting very short, and we have flood warnings. Most roads are closed due to COP26, the rest are closed with  water. Out builder was talking about turning up on a paddleboard.

Bedward  heading towards bed. Be nice alliteration if one was heading towards bed with some one called Edward and a teddy bear. While listening to music by Jedward.

Brabble  to argue loudly. This could apply to any Brexit debate. Our builder has just told us that  the chap who drives the skip lorry turned up at work with a tag on his ankle, just out the pokey (jail) because the building industry is so short of drivers (due to Brexit), they released him early to get back to work.

Constellate to cluster together, hopefully the crimewriters of Murder Is Everywhere shall constellate  in Minneapolis where we shall be stars in our own firmament.  Or legends in our own lunchtime depending on what panels we get. 

Degust to taste carefully.  Me, on  soup that's supposed to be veggie but has the faint whiff of a ham stock cube.  

Deliciate to delight oneself... going to a bookshop and sniffing new books - or is that just me. I haven't actually been in a bookshop for nearly two years.


                                                    The last book I bought. And very good it was !!

Elflock means tangled hair, I suffer from this. Stan doesn't! 

Gorgonise  to have a paralysing effect on somebody. My jokes can do this.   

Hugger-mugger  to act in a secretive way.  Although apt, it doesn't sound very John Le Carre.   George Smiley may have been hugger-mugger all his life.

Illecebrous attractive.   Although it sounds more like an irritation of the large bowel.

Jargogle confuse, It sounds like a character from star wars,  the  Walk Of Skyriser.

Kench to laugh loudly,  or I think it sounds like drunken laughter, or just drunk, plain drunk. 'I got totally kenched last night.'

Malagrugrous  dismal,  As in,  that new book by that celebrity who was paid £600 000 for it, is totally malagrugrous.



Monsterful  wonderful.  My new book will be this, both wonderful and full of monsters!!

Osculable  that can be kissed.... mmmm...  Which begs the question, are there things that cannot be kissed. Answer on a postcard!

Overmorrow the day after tomorrow, I love this word. I shall be using it soon.   Would this word have changed the 'Hill Of Beans' speech in Casablanca?  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but overmorrow.  Good title for a book maybe....


Schoolman means a  teacher, Would probably be rejected now for rampant genderism.

Twattle gossip,  this could be a good word for the fake news on social media.  'Yes, I heard that but it's just twattle. Most of twitter is twattle tweetage.

Widdendream – state of mental confusion…. Or excitability.  Or both.

 Twitter light - twilight, or could mean to make sense of the  tweeted twitterings .

I am going to challenge myself to use one word on the list for each of the live events in 2022, just to jargogle the constellated audience.


Thursday, October 28, 2021

Back home to Knysna

 Michael - Thursday

Over the past two days I drove the 800 miles back from Johannesburg to Knysna. Although I was leaving behind the African bush and many friends, it's good to be back home. Now Stan and I are doing the final edits for the new book - no rush as long as it's by the end of the month i.e. Sunday!

So here is a previous blog about the trip home - the incomparable Meiringspoort. 

Driving through the Meiringspoort pass on the way down to Knysna, my friend from the US commented: ‘Wow. This is world class. How come people don’t know about it?’ It’s a good question. It’s one of the most spectacular drives in South Africa. Perhaps its disadvantage is that it isn’t close to one of the tourist magnets like Cape Town or the spectacular wildlife regions of the north east. It takes one through steep gorges with colorful folds and patterns for a distance of about ten miles. It’s regarded as one of the best accessible view of folded mountains in the world.

Old road in the foreground

Petrus Johannes Meiring
It has an interesting history too. The Swartberg (Black Mountains) form a second line of the defense of the arid Karoo interior of the country from the coast. The first line is the Outeniqua Mountains. Both are the result of the massive stress and folding that resulted from the lifting of the eastern side of the country. The Swartberg formed an almost impassable barrier between the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo—the former being a less harsh area with good soil (especially for South Africa’s Cape Vintage, the local port wine equivalent), sandwiched between the two mountain barriers. Of course, the San people knew these mountains intimately and have wonderful caves with rock art all through the Swartberg, but the first settler to explore a possible mountain pass there was Petrus Johannes Meiring in the early eighteen hundreds. He decided to follow the course of the Groot Rivier and found his way through. Later, he constructed a rough bridle path that allowed the more adventurous travelers to make their way through the mountains. Eventually, it became known as Meiringspoort. (Poort means a gateway.)

Crossing one of Bain's drifts

In 1856, Thomas Bain, one of the great engineers of the day, set about building a road through the poort. The general feeling was that the 5,000 budgeted for the project would be hopelessly inadequate. But, in fact, the overrun was only 18. (Why don’t I know builders and engineers like that?) A toll house was constructed (perhaps to repay that 18) with a small shop. The plan was to connect the large sheep farms of the hinterland with the port of Mossel Bay for export. It worked. Twenty years later, an eighth of all the South African wool exported made its way through the pass.

But it certainly wasn’t all plain sailing. The good thing about following the Groot Rivier is that it’s cut a reasonably passable gorge through the folded sandstone of the mountains. But the road crosses the river some twenty times. The bad thing about following a river is that when it floods, it washes away the road! That’s happened multiple times—the last time was in 1996, but even today the road becomes impassable if the water level is too high.

Meiringspoort seems to be almost supernatural in its structure and colors, so I suppose it’s not too surprising that it developed legends of ghosts and other strange happenings. There was a period when the focus was the mermaid who apparently lived in a deep pool at the foot of the waterfall. The legend goes that she needs to be treated with respect and offered gifts lest she become angry and destroy the road and the travelers on it with flooding. This she has done multiple times. After the huge flood of the late nineties, the mermaid was supposedly washed out to sea where a fisherman caught her near Mossel Bay. Much excitement ensued, and eventually she was returned to the pool in effigy—a doll with a fish tail. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Why there is no Halloween In Africa


Like many celebrations throughout the year, the meaning of Halloween has morphed over the centuries and lost its original meaning. As most sources will tell you, the word Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve, or the eve of All Saints' Day, which is the first of November; hence the eve is October 31. The Oxford English Dictionary records the earliest use of All in 1556, and the latest in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure of 1616 (Allhallond-Eue)After that, the "All" seems to have dropped out of use.

Decorated cemetery on All Saints' Day night (Shutterstock/Jaroslav Grudzinski)

All Hallows Eve(n) --> Hallows E'en --> Halloween

"Hallows" refers to a holy person, deriving from the old English word, halig for holy. We're familiar with the phrases "hallowed grounds," and "hallowed be thy name," in the Lord's Prayer, meaning venerated in those contexts. For an in-depth linguistic discussion of the history of Halloween, see this piece by Neal Whitman.

What might be less well-known is that although the word Halloween derives from a single source, the celebration itself draws on two historic celebrations: the ancient Gaelic (subset of Celtics) festival of Samhain, [pronounced, oddly enough, sow-win] (from sunset of October 31 to sunset November 1) and the Christian holiday of All Saints' Day. Here's a little bit about Samhain:

Samhain has pre-Christian roots and marks the end of the harvest season and the start of the darker half of the year. In Samhain, there was the belief that spirits, good and bad, could more easily enter the physical world. As part of the festival, people would gather to burn animals and crops in bonfires as sacrifices to the Celtic gods and deities. During the celebrations, people would dress up in costumes and dance around the bonfires. The point is, the festival was very much tied to the cycle of life and death. As was the habit of Christians, they annexed a "Christian" celebration, All Saints' Day, to a pagan one in the hopes of "converting" said pagans. (NB: paganism is not in itself evil, but it has become a derogatory word at the hands of monotheistic religions). The "trick-or-treat" tradition might have come from Irish and Scottish holidays in which people would dress up and visit homes to perform antics, sing a song, recite a poem, etc. in return for a treat.

Often discussed in this context is the Day of the Dead, or El Día de Los Muertos. This tradition dates back some three thousand years ago to the Aztec people. Celebrated in Mexico and elsewhere, it's sometimes incorrectly called, "Mexican Halloween." The "day" is actually Day of the Innocents on November 1, and Day of the Dead on November 2. Rather like the Celtic tradition of Samhain above, on the Day of the Dead, the border between the spirit world and the real world disappears. During this brief time, the souls of the dead come awake and return to the living world to celebrate. Hence, food and drink are left out at gravesides and on altars. Also prominent are decorative and elaborate skeletons and skull masks.

Dia de los Muertos festival in Mexico City (Shutterstock/IlanDerech)

Is there Halloween in Africa?

There is no original African celebration, event, or occasion on a selected day called "Halloween" as known in the US and other western countries that have adopted the tradition. Halloween's origins are not shared by African traditions, particularly as the history of Halloween is tied in part to the changing of the seasons from summer/autumn to winter. Certainly in West and Central Africa, there are only two seasons: wet and dry. Halloween has little relevance to most Africans. I asked a Ghanaian friend who has never been out of Ghana about it; he had never heard of Halloween or All Saint's Day. (Arguably, Christmas shouldn't be relevant in Africa either as its origins are tied up with pagan traditions around the winter solstice. But Christmas, for lots of reasons not the least of which is Jesus is at the center of the tradition, is in a league all of its own all over the world.)

If Halloween parties are held somewhere in Africa, they would be almost certainly "borrowed" from the West and perhaps held by expatriates. In Rwanda in 2013, Halloween parties did not go down well with the Rwandan government, which banned such gatherings, stating that "hono[u]ring the spirits of the dead is inappropriate and against Rwandan culture." One reason why that could be the case in Rwanda and other African countries is that phenomena like spirits, the ancestors, magic, and juju are taken seriously and can even be part of daily life. Essentially, the African perspective--certainly West Africa--is don't joke around with that kind of stuff. Placing a mock graveyard with ghosts and ghouls in your front-yard as Halloween "fun" would be seen as seriously bizarre in Africa and probably offensive as well. 

At the same time, there are many African ceremonies with a central theme of communicating with the ancestors, and some are performed with the wearing of elaborate masks, which represent the spirits of those ancestors e.g. FESTIMA in Burkina Faso, and Nigerian mask festivals. In other words, unlike modern Halloween, there is a deep meaning embedded in those traditions themselves. 

Ceremonial mask dance in Burkina Faso

                                                        (Shutterstock/Dietmar Temps)

The bottom line

Halloween has historical origins, but in modern times it's a commercialized celebration of dubious value in which children and adults dress up in costumes of all types--scary and not--often their alter egos or favorite superhero. It's also the warning that the interminable holiday season is about to begin, so start shopping.

And finally, what do pumpkins have to do with all this? All you need to know about this is there's an Irish legend with a guy called Jack whose ghost roams around restlessly. The carved pumpkin (originally carved turnips) is supposed to scare Jack away. 

As time passes, perhaps the occasion will be called Holloween. One celebrant, an adult, thought the name originated from the fact that your stomach is hollow before you get all that candy from trick-or-treating.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Negativity Bias

Annamaria Fights Back

 Evidently, the human race has a bias in favor of the negative. Psychologists define this tendency as "the propensity to attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information."

This makes perfect evolutionary sense. Since the survival of the fittest has shaped our make up, we are descended from creatures who cared more about what was and wasn't poison, then they did about the particular flavor of the berries they were picking and eating. As Professor Roy Baumeister of the University of Queensland put it, "Life has to win every day. Death only has to win once." So our species genetically pays enormous attention to risk.

If that weren't enough, anyone who has brought up a child or listened to his parents admonishing a younger sibling knows full well that the word one says to a toddler, constantly, is "No."  Baby crawls over to a hot radiator. "No no. No no." Two year old starts up the stairs. "No no. No no."

The upshot of this potent combination of nature and nurture means that negative experiences have a stronger impact on us psychologically than positive ones.  We pay more attention, and remember better our losses than our gains. We react more strongly to rejection than acceptance. (Caveat: I don't imagine that this is always true of novelists. Perhaps, in my case anyway, it's my tendency and preference for optimism that makes being a novelist a joy for me.)

Like it or not, humans are - generally speaking - more skeptical about the positive than the negative. There is no positive version of "too good to be true."

For the news media a preference for the negative is an economic decision.  Newspaper publishers have pretty much always known that bad news sells papers. "If it bleeds, it leads," is how they put it.  Nowadays, with 24/7 TV news channels, one can submit oneself to an unceasing barrage of endlessly repeated misery and mayhem.  Even if you turn off the TV, you can find – on social media - a constant feed of the same.  In fact, the social media algorithms ramp up the bad noise.  Negativity on steroids. They boost things that make people angry and upset,  and thereby help them go viral.

These tendencies may keep people safer, but they also have their downside.  They cause us to pass up opportunities, scorn new ideas, refuse to try new things that might be very beneficial.  This is especially true for folks whose upbringing over emphasized risk avoidance.  This negative bias also causes us to spend time, energy, and often money trying to avoid unlikely negative outcomes.  Don't believe me? How about fear of running out of toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, which we know caused a shortage of toilet paper when otherwise  there would not have been one.  That sound trivial?  How about those HUGE budgets that countries spend on "defense" against problems that have little chance of actually happening.  Or this:

My friends all know what a positive attitude I have. I have bragged here before, and will probably never stop bragging, about Stan calling me a "proton in a particle accelerator."  I love being positively charged.

I also know that positive feedback is much more instructive than negative feedback.  It tells a person what to do more of and what to keep doing. Negative feedback only tells the recipient what to stop doing. It comes with no clues about what might work.

From time to time, friends ask me to read their draft work in progress. I make suggestions, but mostly I like to tell them what is working in the story. They sometimes tell me that I am being kind when I say I like some thing about their work. I think it would be dreadfully unkind to lie in such a situation. I tell them the truth, but I emphasize the positive because I want to them to know what works for them. Not because I want them to think I'm a nice person, but because I sincerely want to help them succeed.  For myself, I want to know what I'm doing wrong.  Of course I do. But I think everyone also wants to know what they're doing right. Don't you?

At any rate, I hope I can convince you to celebrate good stuff, as well as working to improve things that are broken and need to be fixed. Look at it this way, the human race has been talking about the apocalypse for at least a few millennia.  And more recently inventing stories about the post-apocalypse.   Guess what? After thousands of years, the world is still here.

Won't you join me in saying


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Omiyage! Japan's Souvenir Obsession

 --Susan, every other Sunday

One of my good friends describes omiyage as "Japan's unofficial national sport"--and although he laughs when he says, it, that description is at least halfway accurate.

When you live in Japan, and you travel (either for work or for a vacation), it's traditional to bring back omiyage for your family, friends, and co-workers. The word "omiyage" is usually translated "souvenir"--but that's mainly because there isn't a more accurate word (or concept) in English.

A more culturally accurate (if linguistically burdensome) translation of omiyage is: "small, individually wrapped treats that give your friends and family a literal taste of the (food-related) specialties for which the place you went to visit is famous or well-known."

The problem is, if I'm being honest, that translation is a bigger mouthful than most omiyage.

Basically, you bring back edible treats--produced with delight and pride and a in every city, town, and region in Japan--to give to those you love (or, possibly, want to make insanely jealous of your adventure...)

"From Hokkaido With Love"

Every major train station in Japan has an omiyage shop--and many of the ones not large enough for a dedicated gift shop stock omiyage in the station convenience store. Most hotels and ryokan (traditional inns) have gift shops, too--with popular omiyage prominently on display. 

Omiyage on display at Kinugawa Onsen, Tochigi Prefecture

Traditionally omiyage are supposed to be local specialties. If you travel to Aomori Prefecture, in Northern Tohoku, that means apples--and you'll find everything from freeze-dried apple slices to apple cookies, cakes, and pies, and of course apple juice in single-serving bottles. 

Apples from Aomori!

 You can find omiyage in everything from individual packages to enormous boxes filled with more than 30 individually-wrapped, single serving treats (for larger offices--if your company is much bigger, it's usually ok to bring omiyage only to the group you work directly with).

Unique KitKats from Tokyo's KitKat Chocolatery

It's also common to bring back something the recipients can't get at home--for example, unique or seasonal chocolates. Note that the KitKat bar above is literally one single stick, wrapped and placed lovingly in a box. Quality over quantity is the rule...

Rice cracker assortment

The photo above shows the inside of a "single serving" rice cracker assortment from Kyoto. While most omiyage are a single cookie or a 1-3 bite treat, there are also slightly larger options.

Single serving pour-over coffee (in disposable paper filters)

Omiyage can also be something that can be found in other places, but which is produced in a small-batch, local form--like the Taisetsu Coffee shown above. 

Bath Salts from Hokkaido

And while it's supposed to be edible, it does occasionally come in non-edible forms--for example, the yu no hana above. Yu no hana literally translates "hot-water flowers," and is a term used to describe the natural salts and minerals that exist in volcanic hot spring baths. Places with famous onsen baths (like Hokkaido, in Japan's far north) often sell these "bath salts" to enrich your bath at home.

Cookies - perhaps the most traditional omiyage

Cookies are among the most common forms of omiyage. They're easy to package and transport, and pretty much everyone loves a cookie. (Incidentally, the Hokkaido peppermint cookies above are AMAZING - and if you want to try them for yourself, FROM HOKKAIDO WITH LOVE ships all kinds of Hokkaido omiyage and other treats internationally.) As a bonus, cookies are easy to adjust to feature regional specialties and local ingredients.

Corn soup!

Omiyage even comes in some less-easily-anticipated forms, like the Hokkaido sweet corn soup above. The little packets are concentrated--you add hot water for a cup of delicious soup. Hokkaido corn is both famous and beloved in Japan, so while soup might seem like a weird souvenir, this is actually hugely popular.

I give and receive omiyage fairly regularly, and love everything about this neat tradition. It's fun to taste the places other people go, and equally fun to bring back the "perfect bite" for others to enjoy.