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Gift Giving Etiquette in Japan

Gift giving is an intricate part of Japanese culture, both in social situations and in the business setting. This can be uncomfortable for outsiders who are not familiar with the complicated social customs surrounding gift giving in Japan. There are several gift giving seasons, but it is also customary for visitors to offer gifts to their hosts. When visiting Japan, it is a great idea to come prepared with a few different gifts, so if you are presented with a gift you are able to return the favor.

The following is a basic guide designed to help you navigate the often complicated gift giving rituals.

Gift Giving in a Social Setting

It is customary to bring along a gift when you are invited for dinner or special event. When giving a gift to a friend, it is polite to say “Tsumaranai mono desu ga.”, which translates as “this is boring but…,” and is used to show modesty. Be careful not to give gifts featuring the number 4 or 9, which are considered unlucky.

Keep in mind, the focus in Japanese culture is in the act of gift giving, not the gift itself. Gifts representing places or prestigious brands are popular. Consider giving gifts such as pen and pencil sets, bottles of wine, imported cognac, or chocolate. Gifts from home or an area you recently visiting are particularly appreciated.

Gift Giving in Business Setting

Japanese culture is a complicated maze of traditions, pride, and modesty. The business culture in Japan can be extremely confusing for outsiders, and the gift giving aspect is no different. For example, a Japanese person will generally never say “No”, instead they will say “Maybe”. Also, it is polite to reject a gift twice before accepting. All these rules can become extremely puzzling for an outsider.

In a business setting, it is quite common to give gifts and these are never seen as a bribe, even if the gifts are extravagant. Gifts should be gift wrapped in neutral wrapping paper (pastels are good) and presented with both hands towards the end of a meeting. Also, gifts are usually opened in private, which is the opposite of many Western cultures.