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Gift Giving in Japan - Japanese People and Their Gift Giving Customs

Updated on November 4, 2010
Typical Japanese "Omiyage"
Typical Japanese "Omiyage"

Gift Giving in Japan

Gift giving in Japan is a very important part of Japanese society. So if you are heading to Japan or are greeting Japanese friends or colleagues, make sure to continue reading to better understand what to expect. And please check out some of my other Japan related hubs. Links located on the right.

Gift giving in any culture can be difficult to understand, but like most things in Japan, the custom of gift giving can be even more complex especially from a foreigners perspective. The key to a good relationship with your Japanese acquaintances can simply be a good gift.

What is Omiyage?

If you are traveling to Japan and are meeting acquaintances there, it is a good idea to stock up on "omiyage" (souvenirs). In Japan, even if a person simply goes to the next town over, it's not uncommon for them to buy some small, usually edible, gift to share with friends and family upon their return. When traveling abroad Japanese go to great lengths to buy gifts for their coworkers, favorite bartenders, friends, family, garbageman or whoever else they know from everyday life. The value of the gift varies depending on the relationship. Someones boss may receive a while box of sweets for example, and your next door neighbor maybe just a small packet of special tea. The most common type of omiyage is food though, especially because space in Japan is at such a premium, people will appreciate something that can be savored rather than saved.

Here are a few tips when buying omiyage:

  • It is best to buy something that represents your country or local community. Especially if it's something unique and exotic.
  • Again, food is recommended, as Japanese are a very food orientated culture and something delicious from your native culture will be greatly appreciated even if the recipient does not particularly like the flavor.
  • Gifts that are easily sharable, are a good idea, especially if you are not sure how many people you will be meeting. Again this is why food is such a great idea. Item's like candy, crackers, coffee, tea, ect. are great ideas.
  • If you decide against food, small, useful things are always appreciated. Fancy mechanical pencils or pens are a good idea.

Giving and Receiving

The actual giving and receiving of gifts is also a complicated and difficult to understand process. Whole books have been written on the subject. The best way to make sure things go smoothly is have a large stock of gifts on hand. It is very likely that you will be greeted with a gift upon meeting your acquaintances, and at this point it is a good idea to reciprocate. If no gift is given to you, you can go ahead and make the first move. I guarantee that you will be given something soon after.

Make sure when you receive a gift to thank those who gave it to you properly, and also be sure to examine it, and even eat it if it's food. It's also common to share with others even if they gave the gift to you.

When it's your turn to give a gift. Make sure not to inflate it's value. Just be humble and explain what it is or where it came from. Some sources say to devalue your gift to seem more humble, but this is never a good idea. It may appear to your friends and colleagues that you do not value them. It's best in my opinion to stay neutral.

And always make sure you have something to give.

Omiyage Gift Ideas

In my experience, local delicacies work best. In my case, I usually bring smoke salmon, or coffee from my hometown of Seattle. These items are always appreciated. I've also brought Ichiro Suzuki magnets. Ichiro Suzuki is a superstar baseball player from Japan who plays for Seattle's professional baseball team. Almost every Japanese person knows who he is, so these magnet's have been a great gift idea thus far.

T-shirts can be a good idea, but you will have to worry about sizes, packing, and making sure there is enough for everyone.

As I said before, food, candy, stationary, small trinkets from your home country will go over well.

Final Thoughts

Do not stress about gift giving too much. Simply be prepared with a some gifts to give out and you will be fine. Most Japanese will not hold it against you if you do not observe all their customs perfectly. You are after all, not Japanese and they know this. Simply making the effort and showing you understand them and their culture will go a long way. Good luck! And most importantly, have fun!

Thanks for reading. Please leave comments below and check out some of my other Japan related hubs.


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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      My Japanese friends do practice this assiduously that I sometimes get embarrassed not knowing how to reciprocate but it is a great tradition of caring.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I was exposed to the practice of omiyage early on, so it doesn't seem strange to me at all, but I appreciated reading a more detailed explanation of it, and think your advice is excellent. Great Hub!

    • The Blagsmith profile image

      The Blagsmith 6 years ago from Britain

      Hi Vague,

      I have included a link to your hub in my article - Obanagamori: Forest of The Forgotten under the words 'Japanese People' at:

      I hope you enjoy my rendition of my experience in your country. My wife comes from up North in Iwate but her best friend hails from the same city as you.

    • profile image

      Lesli 6 years ago

      Thank you for this page. I am going to an acupuncture seminar in Tokyo & have been a little stressed about appropriate omiyage. I'm from Seattle & thought of chocolate, but it will melt in August. Coffee came to mind, How will they make it there? Do you take instant coffee?

      thank you