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Japanese Gift Giving

In Japan, gift giving is a wonderful practice deeply rooted in their rich cultural tradition. People do not only buy gifts for social events but also for social obligations. To them, it is generally not the value of the gift that matters, but the very act of giving itself because it shows a person’s thoughtfulness toward another.

However, although the value of the gift is not as important as the gesture, you have to take note that this beautiful custom is not simply about giving presents during occasions and social obligations. It is a Japanese tradition that a person must learn and take seriously so as to avoid offending Japanese culture.

If you plan to give your Japanese friends, colleagues or potential business partner’s gifts, you might want to be guided by these few simple tips.

Tips for Japanese Gift Giving

1. Occasions to Give Gifts

In Japan, it’s popular to give gifts for housewarmings, anniversaries, weddings, births, and even children’s achievements.


When attending weddings, it is socially acceptable in Japan to give money as a gift to the couple. After the honeymoon, the newly-weds then show an appreciation of their gift by giving their guests souvenirs. It is important to remember that in Japanese customs, the value of the money should not be an even number, as it is a superstition that if the value is an even number, the married couple might think of dividing the money between them rather than sharing as a married couple.

Days that Show Affection

During Valentine’s Day, it is customary that women give men chocolates. It serves as a symbol of a woman’s affection to the man she is giving it to. Men get to respond to these gifts a month later during White Day, when they are typically expected to return the favor with chocolates, jewelries or other items.

Coming of Age Day

The Coming of Age Day is a national celebration dedicated to the country’s youth who have recently reached the age of twenty. Instead of receiving regular gifts on this day, people often receive Buddhist Prayer Beads or juzu to welcome them during this joyous occasion as newly recognized adults.

It is important to note that in Japan, they don’t usually give gifts for birthdays or Christmas like those commonly practiced in Western traditions.

2. Social obligations

Since the Japanese also consider social obligations as reasons to give others gifts, the Japanese give gifts even to persons they are indebted to as a reflection of their gratitude.

Knowing when to give gifts for this reason may be a bit confusing, but a good example of Japanese gift giving for a social obligation is the giving of “key money” to a landlord at the beginning of the tenancy agreement as a sign of gratitude for letting the giver rent a room.

Another great example is oseibo gifts given every December 20. Oseibo gifts are commonly known as gifts given to anyone one is indebted to. The value of the gift in this case is actually important, because it is a reflection of the giver’s opinion of the help he has received.

3. Business Gift Giving

In Japanese culture, companies actually spend large amounts of money to buy gifts for their clients or customers. When companies first meet for business dealings, it is quite common exchange gifts in hopes of encouraging more transactions in the future. Since expensive gifts are generally given in business, they are not perceived as bribes.

Kinds of Gifts

Generally, the value of the gift is not as important as the act of giving. However, when giving gifts, you must also take note of their beliefs.

For instance, avoid giving them any gift that consists of four or nine items. Said numbers are considered as unlucky numbers and you wouldn’t want to give them something utterly offensive to their superstition.

While flowers may be a good idea to give to the sick, it is not so when you are giving lilies, lotus blossoms or camellias since such flowers are said to be associated with funerals.

Other Important Japanese Etiquette

  • Give and receive gifts with both hands.
  • When giving a gift to just one person, give it to them in private. Giving gifts in front of a group of people is offensive if you don’t intend to give everyone else presents as well.
  • If you plan to give gifts to two or more persons, refrain from giving the same kind of gift to persons of unequal rank as it could be seen as insulting.
  • Learn to modestly refuse gifts once or twice before accepting them.
  • When receiving a gift, it is customary to reciprocate such gift through o-kaeshi or thank you gifts.

Japan has an amazing and beautiful cultural tradition of gift giving that deserves to be honored and respected. Remember to guide yourself with these tips when giving gifts to Japanese friends, or acquaintances so that you too can fully appreciate and immerse yourself to this wonderful practice.