Etiquette guide: The art of business gift giving
As you may have heard, business gift-giving is a big deal in Japan, and, when it comes to etiquette, there is no give and take. To avoid rifts when exchanging gifts, here’s what you need to know
Long before Santa Claus came to town, Japan had Oseibo—the traditional gift-giving season. Oseibo gifts are exchanged in December as expressions of gratitude to those who have helped you during the year both personally and professionally. Traditionally edible and drinkable gifts are given, so consider making your colleague or favourite client happy with a pack of fancy fruit, ornately wrapped cookies or a few fine bottles of sake.
Don’t: skimp on wrapping
Though you may have been told otherwise, it’s not always what’s on the inside that counts. In Japanese gift-giving, the presentation of a gift is as important as its contents, if not more so. A great deal of care and effort (often by store clerks) goes towards wrapping the gift with pastel-coloured papers or traditional furoshiki cloth and adorning it with ribbons. Bear in mind that combining black and red wrapping paper can convey a suggestive message, so it’s best avoided for business gifts.
Do: stock up on choc
In the 1950s, Japanese confectionery companies began advertising heart-shaped chocolates in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day. Somewhere along the way, however, a supposed translation error in one of the ads led to the assumption that only men are on the receiving end and the chocs aren’t limited to your sweetheart. Hence, on February 14, Japanese women treat their male co-workers to giri-choco (obligation chocolate) in addition to the honmei-choco (favourite chocolate) given to their loved ones. In the 1970s, the National Confectionery Industry Association milked the cow dry by establishing White Day, giving men the chance to reciprocate the gift to female colleagues a month later on March 14.
On February 14, Japanese women treat their male co-workers to giri-choco (obligation chocolate)
Don’t: come back empty-handed
While often translated as ‘souvenirs’, omiyage gifts are not intended for you to keep as reminders of a trip, but are brought back to co-workers who couldn’t join you on it. If you’re unsure about what to buy, go for regional delicacies and local products, and remember that kitsch is king. Those ‘I Love Hokkaido’ rice cakes will be a hit at the office.
Do: the big reveal
Japanese gift-giving is like a good magic trick: the reveal is the most important bit. Conjuring up an elaborately wrapped gift from its hiding place inside an inconspicuous konbini (convenience store) bag requires more sleight of hand than the old rabbit out of the hat. When presenting the gift, do so with both hands accompanied by the phrase ‘tsumaranai mono desu ga’ (meaning ‘it’s not much’). Don’t be taken aback if your gift is refused as this is a show of politeness and may be repeated once or twice before eventual acceptance.
Japanese gift-giving is like a good magic trick: the reveal is the most important bit