Is お土産{みやげ} an 当{あ}て字{じ}、 熟字訓{じゅくじくん}、 or something else?

For 「お土産」 to be 当て字, the「み」reading must be part of the 音{おん}、訓{くん} readings or a 名乗り{なのり} reading for the「土」kanji. This is not the case.

For 「お土産」 to be 「熟字訓」, the meaning of the characters 「土」and「産」when placed side-by-side must approximate the meaning of "souvenir". And this is not the case.

So, is the reading of 「お土産」 classified as "non-standard", but not in the sense of 「当て字」 or「熟字訓」? Maybe there is a 3rd classification for words with non-standard readings? Is this 3rd classification maybe "難読{なんよ}み" (I've found very little info about 難読み so far).

  • Since when must a reading be part of the on or kun in order to be ateji? I thought that's what ateji was -- a character (ji) that has been applied (ate rareta) to a given reading/meaning. Things like 木乃伊{みいら} "mummy" where the characters have nothing to do with the reading. Commented May 26, 2014 at 4:01
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    – user1016
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 15:30

2 Answers 2


I think you might be getting deceived by the English word "souvenir" in thinking 土 + 産 has no meaning connection to みやげ. The English word tends to mean something you buy for yourself to remember your travel. The Japanese word is for things you buy to give to others that reflect the cuisine of where you travelled.

産 means either to birth a child or to produce goods or the goods necessary for life.

And 土 means earth, dirt, and some other things but particularly relevant is that it means 地方 ("geographic area" but much more colloquially used than the heady-sounding English equvalent). [Thanks snailboat for the improvement!]

Seems like a 熟字訓 to me. Moreover, the Japanese Wikipedia specifically lists it as one stating:


  • @snailboat -- agreed and improved. I try to get an answer in on the sort of questions where I'm competent and may have rushed it a bit. I've always hated it when people translate from お土産 to "souvenir". It's up there with "octopus balls" and "my senior"
    – virmaior
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 1:52
  • @virmaior, I'm curious, what's wrong with translating お土産 as "souvenir"?
    – dainichi
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 1:36
  • @dainichi --> souvenir is from the french word to remember (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souvenir) and is a keepsake you buy to remember a place you went. お土産 are food stuffs you buy to give to your coworkers, friends, etc. that they eat because you went somewhere. So two problematic differences: (1) souvenirs are for the person who travelled whereas お土産 are for the people who didn't. (2) souvenirs should be objects that endure whereas お土産 should be consumables. So it's nearly entirely unhelpful to translate these words as each other, because the overlap is merely "good bought while traveling"
    – virmaior
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 4:42
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    @virmaior, I don't agree. Souvenirs can be given, and お土産 can be inedible.
    – dainichi
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 6:15
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    @virmaior, I am very aware that there are situations where they do not overlap. Translations are almost never perfect. Your very strong statement "I've always hated it" (notice how you are using an absolute?) just lead me to believe that you thought there was no overlap.
    – dainichi
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 12:46

Shogakukan's Kokugo Dai Jiten Dictionary has this to say about the etymology of みやげ (my additions in [square brackets]):

A shift from miage, where miage means 見{み}上{あ}げ, in other words, to look something over and then give it to someone. Alternately, may be from 御{み}上{あ}げ [where the mi is an honorific]. The spelling 土産 is used given the similarity of meaning with sense 2 of 土産{どさん}.

That sense 2, a gift [for others] from an area where one has visited, arose as an extension of the kanji-based meaning of product of a specific area.

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