Dos and Don’ts: Gift Giving and Reciprocation Custom in Japan
In Japan, gift giving is often incorporated with different situations.
Whether it be for a wedding, a child’s birth, or even confinement in a hospital, you will receive gifts from your Japanese family or friends.
So in Japan, when you receive a gift, it is important to reciprocate the act to express your gratitude to the person who gave you the gift.
This kind of gift giving and expression of gratitude has been taught to the Japanese starting from a very young age and the act has been kept for many years.
For people who haven’t lived in Japan, this may be quite a different custom from your country.
In Japan, in order to express the feeling of gratitude, words or saying “thank you” is important but there is also the thought of returning an appropriate gift for what we receive.
With this kind of act, the people involved creates an equal relation with each other.
The person who receives something, in order to keep a good relationship with the giver, will return the favor or gift.
Returning a gift is sometimes a pressure for others, too, because giving a gift less than half the value of what was received may give off a bad impression.
There are also some superstitions associated with giving a gift and returning them.
For example, some people believe that giving a handkerchief as a gift means that the giver wants to cut the relationship off since the handkerchief could imply the act of crying.
Some also consider that scissors should never be given as a wedding gift because it portrays bad fortune for the event.
For a funeral, tea would be an appropriate gift as it sends a feeling of wanting to remember and talk about good memories with the deceased over a cup of tea.
Packing or Wrapping
In Japan, it is traditional to give or return a gift to someone by wrapping it in a sheet of kakegami or noshigami paper.
The colors and types of knots of the mizuhiki strings also change according to the occasion.
A bowknot is used for occasions that are repeated such as births or starting school.
Meanwhile, square knots are used for occasions that should happen just once like weddings and funerals.
Red and white knots are only used for celebratory occasions.
There is a deep thought in wanting to express gratitude in Japan and sometimes, it may seem like a duty or an obligation instead of a custom.
But this is actually a way to strengthen the relationship between people in Japan.
This is one part of Japanese culture that not many foreigners are able to experience if they don’t live in the country.