A Quick Guide: Giving Gifts in Japan

Japanese people are super-respectful and polite. They almost always bow every time and say “Arigatou” when greeting a colleague, thanking a friend, apologizing, and receiving a gift.

However, there’s a socially appropriate way of giving gifts in Japan so as not to offend them or  put a strain on your relationship.

So, in a bit, we will discuss how you should give a gift to your Japanese friend or business partner.

Omiyage and Meibutsu

Omiyage and Meibutsu

Omiyage is a kind of gift you buy from outside of Japan to give to someone in Japan. When you go out on a trip to Canada, for instance, you could return with an omiyage gift, which may be food, fruits, rice crackers, chocolates, candies, sake, or other gifts.

In contrast, a meibutsu is a gift coming from within Japan or your specific hometown. It is common practice to give a friend or host family or friend a special gift coming from your region to deepen your relationship bonds and trust.

Gift-Giving Traditions in Japan

Gift-Giving Traditions in Japan

In Japan, there are two popular seasons when people give gifts: ochugen and oseibo. Ochugen refers to summer gift-giving while oseibo means winter gift-giving.

The Japanese are very appreciative and give gifts to friends, parents, and hosts when they visit a house. They are also keen on returning a good gesture shown to them back then.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive because the recipient might feel bad about the person going to all that trouble. That said, these have to be sincere and beautifully presented by the sender.

Now, below are the gift-giving traditions practiced in Japan which are vital to know when you are gifting someone:

  • When handing or receiving a gift, use both hands as this is a sign of respect.
  • Giving gifts in an informal and formal situation shouldn’t be the same. 

When giving a friend a gift, you can say, “Tsumaranai mono desu ga.” This means “The gift is only plain, but…” showing humility in giving the gift to your recipient.

On the contrary, you should say differently when handing a gift in a business setting. Express your gratitude by saying “Honno o shirushi de gozai masu ga”, meaning “This is a token of my appreciation, but…”

  • Presenting a gift in the living room is ideal when you’re coming by a friend’s house.
  • Use a shopping bag when bringing the gift to avoid drawing attention from the public. Don’t just put the gift in the bag, be sure to wrap it nicely for the recipient too.
  • Avoid giving gifts in sets of four and nine because those numbers represent death and are thus, unlucky. You may instead want to give two pieces of glassware, or a gift in a set of three, five, or seven—these numbers are regarded as lucky.
  • It’s customarily polite for the person to refuse a gift twice when receiving the gift. So don’t give up and keep insisting!
  • In Japanese culture, women are the ones that give men, say their sweetheart or spouse, chocolates instead of the other way around on Valentine’s Day. But the next month, on White Day (March 14th), men will reciprocate the gesture for them.

More Resources on Gift-Giving in Japan

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