Gift Giving in Japan

My house is filled with gifts- at least 40 of them. You may think that since I’m the bride that all the gifts belong to me and Mr. G, but you’re wrong. They are all gifts for someone else.

Just a section of a room that is fill filled with gifts

Gifts are taking up every inch of the floor!

Japan is a gift giving culture. There is the typical gift giving like bringing a gift if you go to someone’s house, but there are so many other situations that warrant gifts in Japan. Let’s say you haven’t seen a friend in a couple of months, when you do finally see them you bring them a gift- something small like bath salts or a handkerchief. Lets say you go for a trip to a city two hours away for the day- it is expected that you bring back some souvenir for all of your coworkers- usually it’s a box of candy that the city is famous for.

Kyoto is famous for green tea candy like green tea Kit-Kats.  Image via

Kyoto is famous for green tea candy like green tea Kit-Kats. Image via

Living in a gift giving culture has its pros and cons. It’s great to constantly receive gifts and snacks from coworkers and friends, but there is also the added stress of making sure you remember to get gifts for certain occasions. I’ve been in a few embarrassing situations where I’ve forgotten to bring gifts.

Having a wedding means giving and recieving lots of wedding gifts. As I mentioned before, our guests will most likely give us a monetary gift of either $100 to $300 and in return we will give them about a $30 dollar wedding favor. Close family members, however, will be giving us a lot more. The traditional amount ranges from about $1000 to $5000 gifts. A $30 dollar gift favor wouldn’t be acceptable so we will be giving them gift catalogs that are worth $300. They can flip through the catalog, choose a gift, send in a postcard and have the gift shipped to their house. Some gifts in the $300 catalog include Kobe beef, pottery, and trips to Japanese onsen.

A page from one of the more expensive catalogs. This page offers a grill, telescope,  or electronic toothbrushes.

A page from one of the more expensive catalogs. This page offers a grill, telescope, or electronic toothbrushes.

Besides the catalogs and favors, our house is also filled with “thank you gifts” for people who will be giving us gifts. It’s a tradition to give money to co-workers in your company who get married or have a baby (this trend is more common in large, old traditional companies). This means that co- workers who aren’t even invited to the wedding will be giving us monetary gifts. Mr. G and I have forked over a couple hundred dollars over the past few years and I will admit I would grit my teeth when I would hear that one of Mr. G’s coworkers was pregnant and we had to fork some money, but I now really appreciate this aspect of the gift giving culture. Everyone helps each other out during the big stages of your life when you need a little a help. Our thank you gift will either be a box of dried shiitake mushrooms or a giant pack of nice seaweed. Those gifts may sound weird, but its pretty run of the mill in Japan.

Other gifts we have bought have been for those helping us out with the wedding and gifts for the after party. Japanese parties are basically game nights and you give out fabulous prizes to the winners. Our prizes include a digital camera, an iPod shuffle, and a mini grill for yakitori (grilled chicken).

At first I looked forward to shopping for gifts for all of my friends and family, but I’m so sick of shopping. It took us a good two days to get all of the shopping out of the way. It was exhausting.

What gifts are you getting from your loved ones? Anyone from a gift giving culture that had you buy lots of gifts for the wedding?


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