It is no secret that Japanese tourism in Hawaii is alive and well for a number of reasons: because of the well-established Japanese community in Hawaii, the relatively short 7-8 hour flight from Tokyo, and the availability of Western goods at prices unbeatable compared to what they are in Japan, and of course the gorgeous scenery and mild weather. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Japan brings more international tourists to Hawaii than any other country. It is clear that Japanese tourists also love to drop serious money in Hawaii. From the gift-giving ritual of omiyage to the appeal of high-end Western clothing and other goods to Japanese consumers, Japanese tourists can’t wait to spend their cash in Hawaii. Interestingly, local Hawaiian food businesses have been on the rise in popularity in recent years among Japanese consumers. Some of the appeal is simply the Hawaiian brand. But Japanese tourists also really like Hawaiian food, in part because it is often made up of the same types of food found in Japanese culture---rice, fruit, vegetables, and fish, for example. Honey also falls into the category of Hawaiian foods that Japanese people love.
Firstly, any unique, local, and non-perishable food item makes a great souvenir because it can be thoroughly enjoyed without being designated as clutter and banished to the Goodwill pile later down the road. And honey makes a particularly good gift because its shelf life is nearly indefinite. While Japanese tourists do like to stock up on big brand items, there has been a recent shift in local, and often edible, fares. For example, Guido Carlo Pigliasco, who teaches at the University of Hawaii, did a study on how Japanese gift-giving habits have changed in Honolulu in recent years. While items from Louis Vuitton and Prada remain popular, Pigliasco found that “the overwhelming favorite souvenirs are chocolate covered macadamia nuts, T-Shirts, cosmetics, beef jerky, coffee;” the list goes on.
Honey is also a popular choice because, like wine, its flavor depends upon where it’s been harvested and what local plants the bees pollinate. Therefore, the honey tourists buy in Hawaii is not going to be like the honey available in Japan.
Honey is used in Japan as a natural sweetener as well as for its medicinal purposes. The Japanese tend to use honey to soothe sore throats or mouth ulcers. It is also used in desserts, like honey kasutera and Japanese honey toast, or in sweet and savory recipes like honey soy chicken.
In short, Japanese tourists love Hawaiian honey for the same reasons everyone does: because it’s natural, unique, sweet, healthy, and delicious. What’s not to love?
Note: The reference I make here to Guido Pigliasco’s work comes from his article “Lost in Translation: From Omiyage to Souvenir” published in the Journal of Material Culture.