May 1, 2017
The gift giving culture in Japan is a huge part of this society, with presents given for all types of occasions. Now, while there are plenty of gift giving etiquette to remember, it's also important to know the different occasions when gifts are appropriate - and the best type of gift for each occasion. So here's a list detailing the most common times that tokens of appreciation are generally... well... appreciated.
Souvenirs are a huge part of the gift-giving culture in Japan. People usually give omiyage (souvenirs) from their vacations to a whole range of people, including friends, family, and coworkers. But if you're worried about buying so many expensive gifts for so many people, don't stress: it's perfectly acceptable to give a box of local snacks for all your coworkers to share.
Temiyage (thank you gifts) are normally given to people you are visiting/staying with. Once again, these should be local delicacies or souvenirs from your hometown. Of course, not all Japanese people expect gifts, but it's always appreciated when you do give them a little somthin'-somethin'.
Omiyage and Temiyage should be inexpensive - around 1000 to 5000 yen.
Ochugen (お中元) and Oseibo (お歳暮) are two Japanese customs that are specifically for gift giving. The mid-year gift, Ochugen, is given to friends, colleagues and relatives to express gratitude. Usually, the gifts are presented in July - a few weeks before the Japanese holiday of Obon.
Oseibo, the end-of-year gift, is generally given to those you feel indebted to - whether it's friends, colleagues, teachers, clients or customers. Of course, the monetary value of these gifts does have importance as they should reflect just how much you feel indebted to that specific person. The Oseibo gift is usually given in December.
For both of these occasions, anything from food and alcohol to department store items are appreciated.
Giving gifts in Japan is an essential part of business etiquette. When dealing with Japanese companies and workers, it's important to present them with a gift. But be careful! Even though the gift-giving etiquette is the same as other occasions, you should also remember the following rules:
- If you're giving to an individual, give to them in private. If you're giving to a group, make sure they're all present (forgive the pun).
- Once again, give them something unique from your country.
- Make sure the gift does not have your company logo (it's considered tacky).
- Expensive gifts are common - and are not considered a bribe.
- Reciprocating gifts are expected.
New Years in Japan is a traditional celebration where people travel to their hometowns to spend time with their families. So of course it's also a great opportunity for some gift giving:
Firstly, sending New Year's postcards (known as 年賀状 nengajō) is a very important custom. These letters are sent to many different types of people (including friends, family, and coworkers/bosses). However, because the postcards are meant to arrive on January 1st, every person has to prepare and send their letters in advance - so as not to overload local post offices.
Secondly, on New Year's Day, it is customary to give envelopes of money to children - commonly known as otoshidama. But be careful: the money shouldn't be placed in any old envelope - it's actually customary to place the money in small decorated envelopes known as pochibukuro. The amount depends on the child's age.
Valentine's Day is popular 'holiday' all over the world and many countries have their own local gift-giving practices. Even Japan has its own unique take where, on February 14th, it's the women who give to the men. And it's not just girlfriends giving to boyfriends, it's coworkers giving to coworkers and employees giving to bosses. But don't fret! These gifts are much like the omiyage and can be edibles for everyone to share.
As I discussed in my previous post, reciprocating gifts is also an important part of gift giving culture. Therefore, Japan's White Day is an answer to their Valentine's Day. So every White Day (which falls on March 14th) it's the men who give the women in the same fashion.
I've talked about wedding gift superstition before, but just to recap, it's customary to give money to the lucky couple - in lieu of actual gifts. The amount should be an odd number - so around 30 000 yen and 50 000 yen is best. The wedding gifts are often reciprocated with souvenirs - either at the wedding reception or from the couple's honeymoon.
Traditionally, Christmas and Birthdays are not celebrated in Japan. However, in modern Japanese culture, these two gift-giving occasions are becoming more popular. But because these are based on Western traditions, rather than Japanese ones, there are no special etiquette that you need to remember. However, you should brush up on the general etiquette as these still apply.
Note: In Japan, Christmas is a time for romantic dates or for friendly parties - so you don't need to worry about any family activities.
I'm a South African working and living in Tokyo, Japan. I'm an avid traveler and I want to document my travels around Japan and South East Asia.