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The pronunciation "みやげ" does not correspond to on'yomi nor kun'yomi of 土産, so I thought it was a gikun (義訓), but the combination of kanji and does not seem to provide the meaning of "souvenir" either. Based on the pronunciation, I previously thought that it was taken from the verb stem of 見上げる and the meaning "to look up at" does sound like it's related to giving souvenir, but the slight difference in the second syllables of "みやげ" and "みあげ" has a lot to say against this theory.

So what was the origin of the word and kanji 土産{みやげ}?

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I see many people on this website somehow using the words like 義訓 or 名乗り読み, and I am aware that there are some websites written in non-Japanese (particularly English) that lists these words, but a normal native Japanese speaker will rarely use those words nor know them. The usual word used is 熟字訓読み. –  sawa Oct 29 '11 at 1:07
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@DaveMG In 熟字訓 (e.g. [明日]{あす}), the kanji combination exists prior to the pronounciation in question and is meaningful as a kanji compound. It may be replacing another (on-yomi) reading. In 当て字 (e.g. [珈]{コー}[琲]{ヒー}), the pronounciation exists first, and kanji are assigned to it according to the pronounciation, so you can tell which kanji is responsible for which part of the pronounciation, and the kanji combination does not make sense besides the pronounciation. In this question, what Lukman means is the former. –  sawa Oct 29 '11 at 3:50
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There are several explanations I found on gogen-allguide:

The kanji are obvious, it's a souvenir, a product of the land.

The reading can come from 見上 (みあげ) as you "look" (見) for something to "give" (上), from 屯倉(みやけ)which is a place with stocks (of souvenirs?), from 都笥(みやこけ), 宮倉(みやけ), 家笥(みやけ)」 which all evoke some place and some container.

The ateji was probably chosen at the end of Muromachi.

PS: I don't see why the いあ -> や mutation "has a lot to say against this theory". On the contrary, I find it very likely.

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I was expecting to get a simple answer, but I guess figuring out word etymology is not always straight forward ... –  Lukman Aug 2 '11 at 7:51
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Just some extra info on this: Sugimoto Tsutomu 杉本つとむ's Gogenkai 語源海 says that both /miage/ and /miyage/ are seen in old writings, but /miage/ appears to be older. If this is true, the /miya/ in /miyage/ is very unlikely to come from /miyako/ 都 or /miya/ 宮. . For the record, Sugimoto agrees with the 見上げ etymology, and so does the Kojien 広辞苑 dictionary. –  Matt Aug 2 '11 at 11:46
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To understand Japanese etymology one must master Chinses dialect such as Taiwansese,Mandarin,Kantonsese etc.
Mi in Taiwanese is Something and Ageru is to-give in Japanese. Thus Miage is Gift.

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Or it could come from 「視る」, "to assess". –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 29 '11 at 11:36
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There are indeed some Japanese expressions that come from Chinese proverbs and it's true that it helps to know some Chinese etymology to understand some obscure Japanese terms. BUT 土産 or 見上 are not in this category. MI in Taiwanese probably means what you say, but 見 in Taiwanese is pronounced kiàn or kì and it has the same meaning in Japanese, Mandarin or others. (I don't know where you got the MI you're talking about.) I give you the benefit of the doubt and suggest you change your strategy. Knowledge of history and Chinese would be useful here as well IF you use good arguments. –  龚元程 Oct 29 '11 at 15:57
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