I thought I would write a little note to explain the Japanese custom of gift giving to the students, particularly how it affects relationship building.
Omiyage is a souvenir gift from a trip and it is customary to give these gifts in Japanese popular culture, gift giving is a very common part of Japanese culture.
Before I even begin it is important to note that gifts in sets of four should be avoided as the number four is considered an unlucky number (the Japanese word for four is pronounced the same as the word for "death"). Do not buy anything in sets of four!
As important as the gesture of a gift is how you give it, when handing over a present, both the gift giver and recipient use both hands.
As you give the gift you could say; sumiamsen, omiyage desu, dōzo (excuse me, here is a gift for you, please accept it), as you do lower your gaze and bow your head slightly showing humility. This bow is not just to Soke, to anyone is the same procedure, it shows humility and the feeling behind the gift, this is more important than the gift, it a symbol of good feeling.
If you were not getting his attention or interrupting and just arriving at that class you could replace excuse me with ohayo gozaimasu (good morning), konnichiwa (good day) or konbanwa (good evening), or omit excuse me altogether and just say omiyage desu, dōzo.
These gifts are not imperative but it is a nice gesture for students to bring Soke gifts when he visits, I would say that it is important for black belts as it helps to further develop a relationship with Soke directly. You will probably have noticed that Soke brings small Japanese souvenir gifts for students in return.
This is also good for kyu grades, it gets you noticed and is an ice breaker to building a relationship.
Have you noticed how Soke takes to some students and teaches them a lot, generally jokes with them etc., this is not preferential treatment, make no mistake Soke likes talent, he particularly likes good training, however it is much easier for him to be relaxed with a particular person if he feels like he knows that person or now has a less formal relationship with them.
It's a Japanese thing, once you open up, he opens up, until that happens he is not really in his comfort zone.
Gifts should not be expensive, but also not cheap, this is important as they are only small tokens of esteem, but important tokens.
Gifts should not be bulky or heavy, remember he has to carry them back to Japan and has limited baggage weight allowance.
I always recommend gifts that are good for Soke to give as omiyage when he returns home as he usually shares them out between the students in Japan. They need not be wrapped but should be in a nice bag, a nice with the name of the shop is customary or a gift bag. They can be wrapped too but a nice souvenir bag is better.
Give gifts that are unmistakably British, even souvenirs are great choices, things representing your local area such as a photographic calendar are great choices. If you give foodstuffs, biscuits, shortbread etc better to buy a few small packs than a big box but make sure they have plenty of date on them in order that they are in well in date after he returns home.
Omiyage is a Japanese custom, but from a students perspective consider it about being a starting point for a relationship and really it's about building your own direct relationship and good feeling or kimochiii.
Okuden no Maki