Japanese culture, giving gifts to those you care about – friends,
family, neighbors, teachers, business colleagues – is as much of a deep
rooted cultural tradition as it is a socially expected obligation. Every
aspect of the highly prized and valued process, from picking out the
gift, to wrapping, presenting, and receiving the gift, is a finely
executed art. Thus, the act of giving and the ritualistic manner in
which it is performed often becomes much more important than the gift
itself. If you are living outside of Japan, you can adopt some of these
Japanese gift-giving traditions to make your own exchange of gifts more
meaningful and significant.
Selecting the Perfect Japanese Gift
According to Japanese custom, choosing the right gift is an important
step. A very expensive gift may be overwhelming and cause a person to
feel guiltily indebted to you, whereas a cheap and irrelevant gift may
be viewed as representative of your attitude toward the receiver. The
best gift, then, is often a small, thoughtful gift that only you and the
receiver understand the significance of (think inside jokes, stories,
or circumstances). To the Japanese, the symbolism of a gift is carefully
pondered. For example, gifts in pairs are considered lucky, whereas
quantities of four or nine of something are unlucky and always avoided.
Think about your own personal customs, symbolism, and beliefs in
selecting well-intended presents.
Wrapping Your Gift with Care
Each step of giving is an art, but none so more recognizable to other
cultures as the beautifully wrapped parcels from Japan. The way in
which the object is wrapped is sometimes much more important than the
gift itself. Often, Japanese men and women will have their gifts wrapped
right in the department store, where trained staff delicately and
expertly fold rice paper and mizuhiki craft cord
into a work of art. For you, this is where you may let your artistic
flourish shine! The aesthetic quality of the covering is crucial; wrap
your gift carefully, beautifully, thoughtfully. Never give an unwrapped
Presenting the Gift to Your Recipient
When it comes time to hand over the precious item, Japanese custom
demands an attempt to do it privately, discreetly, and without much
attention. About-face is very important in Japan, and it could be
horribly embarrassing and uncomfortable for the receiver to be presented
with a gift they don’t care for in front of others. The giver is also
expected to be very humble, passing off their offering with both hands
and acting as though the present is no big deal, just a small trinket,
nothing special… regardless of the quality or expense of the product.
Humility and kindness in giving transcend into other cultures as well;
you are extending a part of yourself and your heart in these
transactions of generosity.
Appreciating Gifts You Receive from Others
The final step in the careful dance of Japanese giving is, of course,
receiving the gift. It is unspoken law that if you give, you shall
receive… and that if you received, you need to turn around and give
back. Sometimes the process can become an ongoing competition of each
party giving back a gift that was better than the last they received.
But of utmost importance is the appreciation, the respect, and the
gratitude for the thoughtfulness of another person. The gift is to be
received with both hands, just as it is given, and contemplated.
Japanese men and women will observe the beautiful precision of the gift wrapping,
unbinding the gift ever so carefully so as not to tear or cut the
enclosure, and then carefully wrapping it back up as if it had never
been touched. This is a lesson we teach our children, to open things
slowly to show appreciation, and one that should be repeated by
ourselves. Enjoy your present, ask questions about it, and ponder in
your mind how lucky you are to be blessed by another’s altruism.
Shop Our Selection of Japanese Gifts
Browse Japanese Gift Wrapping Supplies