Giving Thanks Japanese Style

Jul 1st, 2009 | By Shane Sakata | Category: Lifestyle

Giving thanks in Japan is an art form and one that can be hard to understand from a western perspective.  There are a number of times each year when the Japanese show their thanks by giving gifts.  They visit temples and shrines year round to say prayers and give thanks for their blessings and those that continue to been passed down to them via their ancestors. 

Temiyage (gifts) of sake, fruit and other household items or edibles are given to express thanks and appreciation throughout the year but there are two times each year when gift giving takes on a whole new meaning… 

wagashi Japan japanese gift

Twice a year, in July and December, it is common for co-workers, friends and relatives to exchange gifts to acknowledge favors received and granted during the year. These gifts are called Ochugen and Oseibo respectively. On average, the gifts cost somewhere between Y2,000 and Y5,000 and the value of the gift depends on the relationship between the parties.  Your boss would receive a more expensive gift than a coworker or neighbor.

Ochugen

Ochugen are given to relatives, friends, superiors and coworkers in the first half July.  Gifts are often useful household items like cooking oil, coupons, detergent.  The giver places a thin paper called noshi with the word “ochugen” written on each gift along with their own name.

Oseibo

Oseibo gifts are usually delivered between between December 5th and 20th or in person anytime before the end of the year.  Like Ochugen, the giver places a noshi atop the gift. 

Popular items for oseibo are beer, famous local produce and ham or sausages based on the results of a goo survey translated by Ken at What Japan Thinks

japan melon gift pack

Omiyage

If you are traveling to Japan on business or are fortunate to have a home-stay with a Japanese family on your itinerary the polite thing to do is bring some omiyage with you to show your appreciation to your hosts and those that offer you assistance.  The term omiyage refers to souvenirs brought home for friends and family from your travels but are also popular as gifts from foreign visitors.

Small omiyage of local food products, cell phone straps from a well know tourist destination in your hometown would make great gifts and are easy to pack.  Key chains, t-shirts and caps are also make good omiyage.  Some examples might include items such as small bottles of maple syrup from Canada or the east coast of the United States, macadamia nuts or coffee from Hawaii. 

Gift giving in Japan is practiced year-round – festivals at temples and shrines pay homage to the kami or Gods, gifts are exchanged when you move into a new home, monetary gifts are given at funerals and weddings and children are given otoshidama (an envelope containing money) on New Year’s Day.  The list is endless…

Gift giving in japan is a form of giri, which can be translated as social duty and obligation.  Gifts are given and received with humility and the practice is not as much about the gift as it is about the tradition behind the practice.  Japan brings new meaning to the old saying “It’s the thought that counts” but the gifts are often great too!

To help you when you visit whether on business or pleasure take a moment to peruse these pointers on gift giving etiquette in Japan.

Image Credit:  Flickr, wasanbon, Wikimedia, 20080317-100-dollar-muskmelon

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3 comments
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  1. Those are some nice looking melons.

  2. I’m writing a post right now on the language behind giving. you know, あげる, くれる and もらう and I’m going to put the link to this post in it, Great Work!

  3. You’ll be given gifts from all over Japan during various times of the year, varying in cost based on your relationship to the gift giver, but invariably, your gift will always end up being mochi.

    Although they get the mochi from various famous places, at different times of year, and at different costs, it will always taste exactly the same as any other mochi you’ve ever had. ;-P

    (I’m being sarcastic, but it’s not entirely far from the truth!)

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