In Japan, it's customary to give gifts periodically to those whom people feel indebted, such as doctors, co-workers, managers, parents, relatives, matchmakers, and teachers. These gifts are an expression of gratitude. Seasonal gifts are also customary. For example, end-of-year gifts are called "oseibo" and midsummer gifts are called "ochugen."
Japan gift-giving customs have certain rules of etiquette, which are important to follow to avoid any misunderstandings beteen the giver and recipient. Once such custom is how gifts are packaged. On each gift, the giver attaches paper called "noshi" on which the word "oseibo" or "ochugen" is written. Noshi is a thin and decorative piece of folded paper that is a sign of good fortune for the recipient.
Japanese Gift-Giving Seasons
The two gifting seasons are based on the solar calendar. Oseibo gifts are usually sent from early to mid-December and should ideally arrive by December 20. Despite the timing, oseibo gifts are not Christmas presents.
Ochugen gifts are usually sent from early to mid-July, which is the most famous gift-giving time of year in Japan. The word "chugen" is from the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, and July 15, the date by when ochugen gifts are given, is a ceremonial day in Taoism.
Gifts range widely in price, but the average is about 3,000 to 5,000 yen per gift (approximately $25 - $45). The type and price of gifts depend on the giver's relationship with the recipient. Typically, gifts to those who are especially close are more expensive. Popular gift items are condiments, beer, juice, tea, canned food, fruits, desserts, seasonings, detergent, soap, and gift certificates.
Where to Buy Oseibo and Ochugen
Department stores display many types of gifts in midsummer and at the end of the year. Most people have stores deliver the gifts to recipients. Online stores and convenience stores also carry many gifts for oseibo and ochugen. It's also common for people to bring their gifts to recipients' homes.
Tips for Travelers Visiting Japan
If you’re traveling to Japan, know that the Japanese take gift-giving seriously; therefore, it’s important to know the protocol. Be sure to bring various items from home in case you receive a gift unexpectedly. Suggestions are foreign brand-name items, quality alcohol, gourmet food, electronic toys for children and pen and pencil sets. Don’t buy the same gift for people of different social ranks.
If invited to a Japanese home, bring cakes, candy, or an uneven number of flowers. Avoid white flowers and camellias, lotus blossoms, and lilies.
A gift’s outward appearance is important, so it’s best to leave gift wrapping to the hotel or store. Carry the gift inside a bag to hide that a gift is about to be given. When presenting a gift, use both hands. It’s always best to present gifts in private. Hold off on giving gifts until the end of your visit.