Gift Giving in Japan: The Art of Gifting

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Gift giving in Japan (and gift receiving) is a true art, entrenched with many customs and unspoken etiquette. Whether it’s the different types of gifts, the varying times of year for gift giving, or even how many hands to use to accept a gift, there is much to learn.

Let’s have a closer look at the ritual of gift giving in Japan.

Times to Give a Gift in Japan

Believe it or not, there are two specific periods in Japan when it is customary to give a gift, in addition to more obvious occasions such as birthdays and celebrations. They are called ‘Ochugen’ and ‘Oseibo.’

Ochugen

Ochugen is celebrated on July 15th, a mixture of an old festival from Taoism (lunar calendar) and the Buddhist festival known as ‘Obon’ in Japanese. During Ochugen, people give presents to express appreciation for figures in their life, from children to teachers and family members. 

The type of gift depends on the receiver, such as flowers, chocolates, and even alcohol as a gift. Many like to give gifts from their hometowns too, like Japanese peaches from Okayama or locally produced matcha (Japanese green tea).

During Ochugen gift giving season, gifts are presented in wrapping using white and red ribbons, a sign of luck and prosperity in Japan.

A Japanese card decorated with a traditional Japanese red, white, and gold ribbon and origami, signifying a celebration in the culture of gift giving in Japan.
White, red, and gold ribbons are common for gifts from ochugen to the New Year’s money gift given to children. Image via Shutterstock

Oseibo

Oseibo is observed around the same time as Christmas in the Western calendar. Gifts for friends, family, and even coworkers are given from late November through to December 20th. These gifts, much like Ochugen, are given to show appreciation for the people in the gift givers life. 

Oseibo gifts can range from small tokens such as chocolate or stationery, through to larger tokens. There is no requirement to give oseibo gifts, just as there is no expectation to receive them. This means that getting an oseibo gift can be especially exciting!

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How to Give and Receive a Gift in Japan

It may be surprising, but there are some rules when it comes to gift giving culture in Japan. In Japan, giving a gift in the wrong way might cause offense or confusion, but don’t worry – we’ve got it covered. 

When you give a gift, make sure that it is wrapped and presented nicely. Gift wrapping is almost as important as the gift itself! People really appreciate the effort and thought that comes with gift giving, so nice presentation – no matter how much the gift cost originally – will satisfy any receiver. 

Presenting the gift also depends on whether the gift is for one person or for a group. If the gift is for a group of people, then it is good manners to wait until everyone is there before presenting. 

If the gift is for one person, give it to them privately, away from other people who might see it and feel left out. 

Another thing to remember when giving (and receiving) gifts: always give and receive with both hands. This means that you are truly appreciative of the gift and *ready to receive with both hands*. 

A woman passes a present in a box with a leaf design to another woman using both hands, an important custom of gift giving in Japan.
The two hands rule doesn’t just apply to gift giving in Japan. It applies to things like business cards, graduation certificates, and more! Image via Shutterstock

When receiving a gift, in Japanese culture it is considered good manners to modestly refuse up to three times before finally accepting the gift. 

The last point we’ll make about gift giving customs in the land of the rising sun is reciprocation. If someone receives a gift, they will probably feel obliged to return the favor. 

Other Gift Giving Celebrations

Japanese people love to give gifts and there are a ton of celebrations which have a gift-giving element. 

Birthday and Christmas

Let’s start with the obvious ones. In Japan it is completely normal to give and receive gifts around birthdays and Christmas, too. 

Of course, chocolates, alcohol, toys, and flowers are common. In recent years, many people have started giving potted plants!

Valentines Day

A young girl and her mom stand in the kitchen while making chocolate Valentine's treats, spooning chocolate into cups.
Valentine’s Day gifts are often taken to the next level, with many opting to make homemade chocolate treats… if the receiver is worth it. Image via Shutterstock

Even though the west knows Valentines Day as a day for couples, Valentines Day in Japan often means gifts of chocolate. In fact, the idea is so deeply rooted in Japanese culture that it has spurned different types of chocolate, depending on the receiver.

Giri-Choco 義理チョコ

Giri choco’ is loosely translated as ‘obligation chocolate.’ It was traditionally given to male co-workers by their female colleagues, but in recent years, males also partake in the giving too. 

Honmei Choco 本命チョコ

Known as ‘the real thing,’ honmei choco is chocolate gifted to lovers on Valentine’s Day. Contrary to giri choco and other types of chocolate, honmei choco is more often handmade. 

The effort and labor put in is said to represent the love and feelings for the other person. Often, the women of a family will gather and make some simple chocolate goodies for the men in their family. 

Jibun Choco 自分チョコ

Jibun’ means ‘myself ‘, which really says it all! A little bit of self-love goes a long way, and jibun choco has become especially popular in recent times. 

Other types of chocolate include ‘tomo-choco’ which is basically like Galentines Chocolate. 

White Day

Remember how we spoke about reciprocity above? Well, Valentine’s chocolate is so big in Japan that it has spawned a return gift-giving custom, known as White Day. 

This occurs on March 14th and is a time for receivers of Valentine’s chocolate to return the favor.

Omiyage 

Many souvenir snacks, common option for gift giving in Japan when travelling, with many boxes of snacks like rice crackers, mini apple pies, and more.
Souvenir markets in Japan can be overwhelming with all of the options, but with so many local goods, it’s no wonder there are so many. Image via Shutterstock

Omiyage (souvenir) giving in Japan has been popular for over 500 years since the Edo Period (1603-1867), when wealthy citizens would visit other places and bring back gifts for the people back home. 

Omiyage shops in Japan are found almost everywhere, and it is customary to bring back omiyage for co-workers, friends, and family members. There is no shortage of ideas for omiyage, which will be specific to where it’s from. Some of Japan’s luxury fruits are popular gifts for friends or family.

The price of omiyage ranges from around 500 yen ($4.13 USD) to 5000 yen ($41 USD), although the latter should be saved for special occasions…maybe from a boss coming back from a Japanese business trip!

Let us know what you’d like to give as a souvenir from Japan!

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