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Gift Giving Etiquette in Japan

Kokoro Care Package

Gift giving in Japan is an important cultural and traditional ritual with as much attention paid to how and when the gift is presented as to the actual gift itself. From holidays, to business meetings, returning from a trip, to visiting someone's house, the etiquette of gift giving in Japan is a symbol of your relationship and a way of showing respect and gratitude to the recipient.     

Ochugen and Oseibo

Ochugen and Oesibo are two of the most important gift giving seasons in Japan. Given in July (around the Obon festival) and December respectively, these gifts are a symbol of gratitude and indebtedness and given to friends, relatives, bosses, co-workers, teachers and doctors. Typical gifts include specialty foods, alcohol and household items, and can range in price from Y2000 to Y5000. The occasion also coincides with employees receiving a special bonus with their monthly salaries. 

Ochugen and Oesibo

Nengajyo, Sochu mimai and Zansho mimai

New Years Day is considered the most important day of the year in Japan as family members get together to clean their houses and sit down for the traditional osechi ryori meal. Nengajyo, greeting postcards, are sent to friends and relatives to wish them all the best in health for the upcoming year as well as to send personal updates.

Similarly, as the weather becomes hot and humid in summer, it is customary to send greetings postcards known as sochu mimai to friends and relatives. These cards are also meant to send best wishes for health during the summer heat, to provide updates on personal events and to send thanks for all the support during the first half of the year. These cards are sent during the eighteen day period ending around August 7, which is typically the hottest time of year in Japan and marks the beginning of autumn. Cards sent after this day are known as zansho mimai and reflect the lingering heat. 

Nengajyo, Sochu mimai and Zansho mimai

Omiyage

Although this loosely translates to souvenir, omiyage is much more than that and should not be forgotten. Whether you're going away on vacation, a business trip or a day trip, you are obliged to return home with omiyage for friends, relatives, co-workers and your boss. In many respects, it's an apology for the inconvenience you have caused others in your absence. These gifts are usually individual wrapped snack items that are local to the area you visited and come in beautifully wrapped boxes. Thankfully this culture is so ingrained in Japanese society that you'll easily find omiyage stores almost anywhere you go, including train stations and the airport. 

Yatsuhashi from Kyoto

Yatsuhashi cookies from Kyoto are among the most recognized and famous omiyage in Japan. We featured these crunchy cookies made from rice flour, sugar, cinnamon, kinako (roasted soybeans) in our Aug 2020 Kyoto Inspired Nourishing Essentials Care Package

Valentine's Day and White Day

Although birthdays and Christmas are not notable gift giving days in Japan, Valentine's Day is celebrated by women giving chocolate to the men in their lives. Sometimes these chocolates are impressive home made gifts or can be picked up at any of the stores selling elaborate displays of chocolates. Two types of chocolates are usually given: giri-choco (obligation chocolate) given to friends, colleagues and bosses, and honmei-choco given to a boyfriend or husband. 

Exactly one month later, on March 14th, is White Day. Also known as "reply day", this is the day that men are expected to return a gift, such as jewelry, to the women in their lives - sometimes at three times the value of the gift they received.

Okaeshi 

The spirit of gift giving doesn't end once you've given or received a gift. In Japan, there's the custom of okaeshi, which is essentially an obligatory return gift after having received a gift. This return gift is usually half of the value of the gift received.

How to Give a Gift

The presentation of the gift is as important as to what's inside. The gift should be carefully wrapped in colorful wrapping paper or a furoshiki, cloth wrapping. It is also customary to use the bag from the store where the gift was purchased. Thankfully most stores will expertly wrap your gift for you!

When giving and receiving a gift, be sure to use both hands as a sign of respect. Gifts should also be given at the end of a meeting, should always be politely refused and should be given in a humble manner as "a small gesture" no matter what the gift.

Kokoro Care Packages makes it easy to give the perfect gift. Each of our Care Packages comes with premium-quality, all-natural Japanese food made by local farmers and producers. Every gift tells a story of the people and region that created it. Customized package and corporate gift options are also available. Contact info@kokorocares.com for more details.

About the author:

Lillian Hanako Rowlatt, co-founder of Kokoro Care Pakcages

Co-founder of Kokoro Care Packages. Lillian is a half-Japanese, half-British Canadian currently living in LA. She spent almost a decade in finance (capital markets) before co-founding Kokoro Care Packages with Aki Sugiyama in 2018. She is passionate about sharing her Japanese heritage and preserving the traditions of Japan. She believes in the power of community and connections, nature and wellness, and the importance of a good night's sleep

 

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