Unique Japanese Etiquette: Gift Giving

christmas gift


There are many examples of manners and etiquette particular to Japan. I would say gift giving is one of the most complicated and sensitive areas of Japanese etiquette. This is sometimes very confusing, even to Japanese people, because there are lots of unspoken rules and unexpressed feelings behind our gift giving culture.

Today I would like to show you six points of Japanese gift giving etiquette.


1. Cash
It’s not unusual for us Japanese to give cash as a gift, but it might look too direct or just plain weird, depending on your country or culture. Cash gifting is common for new year’s gifts to children, weddings, funerals and so on.


2. Reciprocation
We usually give something in return for the gift we receive, and the rules differ depending upon each situation. Even if someone were to say “Please don’t worry about the return”, you still need to think about it. This is one example of the unspoken rules I mentioned above.


3. Souvenirs
In your travels, who do you usually buy souvenirs for? Most people in Japan buy souvenirs even for coworkers who are not very close. It’s kind of like an obligation and sometimes not very fun (at least for me), but still we keep buying souvenirs. That’s Japanese…


4. “May I open this now?”
I guess this is not only in Japan, but it’s polite to ask if you can immediately open the gift you’ve just received. How about in your country?


5. Wrapping
I often see people tearing into wrapping paper in Western movies or TV dramas. But In Japan, we usually (although it of course depends on the person) try to open gifts very carefully, as to not ruin the wrapping.


6. “Tsumaranai monodesuga”
I think this is the most unique Japanese etiquette in gift giving . Japanese people often use this phrase when we give someone a gift. The literal translation of “Tsumaranai monodesuga” is “this is a worthless (or useless) thing”. It sounds very strange to you, doesn’t it? You might think “how come Japanese people give a worthless  thing as a gift?”, but this is just our humble way to say “I hope you’ll like it” or “Here is a small thing for you”.

I would say Japanese gift giving protocols are quite complicated, and a very good example of our “honne (real intention)” and “tatemae (superficial reason)” culture. When the chance arises, I would like to write about our “honne and tatemae” culture sometime.



Author: Junko

This is JAPAN Style!