Gift Giving Etiquette
Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese culture and business protocol. Moreover, gifts are exchanged among colleagues on July 15 and January 1 to commemorate mid year and the year’s end respectively.
The emphasis in Japanese business culture is on the ritual of gift-giving, rather than the gift itself. For this reason, you may receive a gift that seems too modest, or conversely, extravagant. An expensive gift will not be perceived as a bribe.
A wrapped gift is often carried inside a shopping bag to avoid ostentation and minimize any hint that a gift is about to be presented.
The best time to present a gift is toward the end of a visit. You can discreetly approach the recipient, indicating that you have a small gift. Avoid giving a gift early in a relationship or at any conspicuous moment.
A gift for an individual should be given in private. If you are presenting a gift to a group of people, have all of the intended recipients assembled.
Present gifts with both hands.
It is customary to comment that the gift you are presenting, even if it is extravagant, is ““tsumaranai mon” [“an uninteresting or dull thing”]. This statement is meant to convey, “Our relationship is more important than this trivial item.”
It is a mistake to give the same gift to two or more Japanese of unequal rank. People will also take offense if you are in the presence of a group of people and give a gift to one person, but fail to give one to the others who are present.
Gifts are opened in private, because if the gift turns out to be a poor choice, “loss of face” will result. Also, if several gifts are presented to people of different status, opening them privately prevents any possible comparisons.
Before accepting a gift, it is polite to modestly refuse at least once or twice before finally accepting.
Ensure that your gifts are wrapped. It’s safest to leave this task to a store or hotel gift-wrapping service.
The safest gift-wrapping choices are pastel-colored papers, without bows. Avoid wrapping a gift with brightly covered papers or bows.
If you are invited to a Japanese home, bring flowers [an uneven number], cakes or candy.
If you receive a gift, be sure to reciprocate.
Gifts in pairs are considered lucky.
– Foreign, prestigious name-brand items
– Frozen steaks
– Gourmet foodstuffs, fresh fruit
– Electronic toys [if children are on your gift-list]
– Cuff links
– Pen and pencil sets
– Something that reflects the interests and tastes of the recipient
– A simple commemorative photograph [i.e., taken from a gathering that the recipient attended]
GIFTS TO AVOID
– Lilies, lotus blossoms, and camellias are associated with funerals. White flowers of any kind should be avoided. There is also a superstition that potted plants encourage sickness.
– Giving four or nine of anything is considered unlucky.
– Red Christmas cards should be avoided since funeral notices are customarily printed in this color.