Steeped in history and symbolic meaning, the ritual act of gift-giving is an important cultural tradition in Japan. Gift exchange is a common way to show respect, gratitude, and social status in many different types of relationships. Whether it’s for birthdays, weddings, graduations, or business meetings, the act of giving gifts in Japan is highly nuanced. And, there many different customs and expectations to be aware of. One of our favorite traditions is the Japanese thank you gift. After receiving a gift, it’s common for Japanese people to send a small “thank you” gift back to the sender. They call this sweet gesture an O-kaeshi.
The choice of gift, wrapping, and presentation are all carefully considered, and can say a lot about the giver and their relationship with the recipient. From traditional items such as wagashi sweets, to the latest gadgets and luxury goods, the options for gifts are vast and constantly evolving. Understanding the significance of Japan gifts and Japanese culture is essential for building strong relationships and navigating social situations in Japan. Let’s take a deep dive into Japanese gifts and the do’s and don’ts of gift giving in Japan.
Gift-Giving in Japan
When sending a gift to Japan, it’s important to use thoughtfulness and care. Japan gifts are given as a symbol of kindness and as a means to give thanks and blessings to the receiver. Occasions such as birthdays, graduations, baby showers, weddings, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and Children’s Day, are wonderful opportunities to show appreciation and thoughtfulness.
Whether you need to send a gift to Japan to thank a host, or want to send a gift basket to a loyal business client, there are a few things to know before pressing the “order” button!
Traditional Birthday Gifts in Japan
Birthday gifts are a time-honored tradition in Japan, and play an important role in establishing and building bonds between people. A popular birthday gift in Japan is a “nengajo”, a postcard sent to friends and family to wish them a Happy Birthday. Another popular birthday gift is a good luck charm or amulet called an “omamori”, used to symbolize protection and good fortune for the recipient. Giving a bouquet of flowers, particularly “hana-mi” (peach flowers), is a meaningful gesture for the birthday person as it is represents the blessing of health and happiness. In Japan, gift exchange is more about showing thoughtfulness and consideration rather than making grand gestures. It’s a way to express love and appreciation.
Traditional Wedding Gifts in Japan
The act of gift giving is a respected part of Japanese wedding culture. It is common for guests to bring a gift wrapped in furoshiki cloth and include a handwritten note to the bride and groom. Giving gifts during a wedding period in Japan is a means to send well wishes and blessings to the newlywed couple. Popular gifts include money, household items and traditional Japanese items such as Daruma dolls, a symbol of luck and strength. There are also Kokeshi dolls, which are handcrafted wooden figures originating from Northern Japan.
Gift-Giving Etiquette in Business
Business gifting in Japan is a great way to build relationships and maintain good will in the workplace. In Japan, people exchange gifts during business meetings, negotiations and on special occasions such as holidays and anniversaries. Bringing a gift from your own country is a great act of kindness, but avoid giving a gift that displays your business logo.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Japan Gifts
In Japan, there many traditions and formal etiquette to consider in gift-giving. It’s a ritual, and the act is far more important than the gift itself. To help you navigate these traditions, follow our list of do’s and don’ts below:
Do follow traditions: In Japan, it’s tradition to give and receive gifts with both hands. This is a sign of respect. If you are the receiver, it’s polite to refuse the gift up to three times before accepting it graciously. Likewise, it is impolite to open a gift in front of a group of people.
Avoid specific numbers and colors: Certain numbers, colors and patterns can accidentally offend someone if you don’t know the meaning. Never send a gift that involves the numbers 4, 9 and 43. (eg. avoid sending 9 cupcakes, or 4 items). This is due to the fact that these numbers sound like words that could offend your recipient. Avoid the colors red, and purple in your wrapping and ribbons as they can symbolize death and ill-intent.
Don’t be cheap: We understand the importance of gifting on a budget, but don’t be tacky, and don’t select an item with your company logo. Instead, opt for a hand-made item or a non-perishable food item from your region.
Do consider the presentation: Put as much effort into the presentation as you have in the gift itself. In Japan, gifts are beautifully wrapped in cloth called Furoshiki. This is a long-standing tradition that is much appreciated in Japanese culture. The color of the Furoshiki is critical, with light pastel colors being the best choice. Note that the color red is for funerals and memorials.
Do consider special occasions: Traditional holidays such as Ochugen and Oseibo are great opportunities to surprise your friends and family with a gift. Gifts such as traditional foods, cakes and alcoholic beverages are popular items.
The Best Holidays for Sending Japan Gifts
As we’ve noted, Japan is a country with many gift-giving traditions. And, Japanese people do not limit gift exchanges to social occasions, but emphasize the act as a social obligation. Gifts symbolize gratitude and indebtedness to others. Here is a list of the best holidays for sending a gift to Japan.
Also known as Hinamatsuri, this festive holiday is annually celebrated on March 3. A day to pray for the health, growth and prosperity of young girls, especially under the age of 10. Families of young girl children will display a set of traditional Japanese dolls called hina- ningyo, as they are believed to ward off evil. A girl’s first hinamatsuri is an important event, which often includes a celebration with gifts, traditional foods and beautiful kimonos.
Boys Day or Tango no Sekku, is a special day occuring on May 5, to celebrate the health and happiness of boy children. Different from Hinamatsuri, on this day, families raise flags called “Koinobori”, to express faith that their children will grow to be healthy and strong men. The carp streamers are thought to be a symbol of hope, strength, courage and success.
White Day or “reply day” occurs on March 14, as a response to Valentine’s Day. Typically, on Valentine’s Day women give chocolates and sweets to male friends and coworkers. The favored men get the highest-quality chocolate, while the unpopular guys get the cheap stuff. White Day is the occasion when men are expected to return the favor with a gift three times the value of the gift given to them.
Falling during the middle of the year, Ochugen is a summer holiday when gifts symbolize gratitude to the people that are important to them. Gifts such as food (especially sweets like cakes, mochi and sweets) are very welcome. Flowers are wonderful gifts for women, but avoid lotus blossoms, lilies and white flowers as Japanese people associate them with funerals.
We hope you enjoyed unwrapping Japan with us, along with understanding the deeper symbolism behind gift-giving in Japan. If you’re looking to surprise your recipient with something unique, consider sending a traditional gift from your own country, just keep in mind our list of do’s and don’ts!
You’ve learned all about Japan gifts, Now What?
- Learn more about all things gifts on our blog page.
- Send a Valentine’s Day gift to Japan.
- If you have any questions or concerns, visit our FAQ page or contact us today.
Born and raised in her beloved mother city Cape Town, Amy-Paige Cox is a writer, poet and plant mom. A hopeless romantic at heart, she loves exploring different parts of the world, all the while documenting her ever-changing perspectives with pen and paper. Although tempted by numerous interests, her life-long goal is to be a globe-trotting children’s book author.