Giving Customs in Japan

Today in class we learned the grammar patterns for giving and receiving items. To illustrate these different scenarios, my teacher taught to us about different holidays and situations in Japan where gifts are exchanged. It was really interesting to hear about these traditions and customs so I wanted to share what I learned!

2/14 – Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the same day as in the US, but customarily only females give on this day. Chocolate is usually the only gift given as opposed to cards, stuffed animals, and flowers common in other countries. Depending on the relationship the woman has with each man, different types of chocolate are gifted.

Honmei choco (true feelings chocolate) is reserved for special romantic interests. Premium brands like Godiva, as well as homemade sweets make up this category of chocolate. Because hand making chocolate has become quite popular in Japan, in February, stores stock their shelves with all the supplies needed for making, decorating, and wrapping these gifts.

Giri choco (obligation chocolate) is exactly what it sounds like. Chocolate that is give out of obligation rather than romantic interest. Usually a cheaper chocolate, these are given to male coworkers, teachers, and bosses.

Tomo choco (friendship chocolate) is chocolate that is exchanged between friends. These are either bought or homemade – like the ones I helped my host sisters make!

Chocolate cookies I helped my host sisters make!

and best of all there is…. jiko choco (chocolate for yourself!) Because you should treat yourself too!

3/14 – White Day

This one is special to Japan! One month after Valentine’s Day is the day males return the favor for the Valentine’s gifts they received. White Day gifts are typically expected to cost 2-3x more than the originally received gift, and are usually something other than chocolate (like jewelry). This makes White Day exceptionally difficult (and costly) for guys who receive a lot of Valentine’s Day chocolate.

Wedding Gifts

Similar to in the US, a common gift for newly weds is money. However, be careful with the amount you give. In Japan, only gift the couple an odd number of bills. Why? An even number of bills can be split easily leading to the superstition that the couple will break up. An odd number of bills can’t be easily separated meaning a happy, lasting marriage.

Additionally, ‘four’ is an especially unlucky number as its pronunciation, (shi) sounds like the word ‘death’ (shi nu). Mirrors are also considered bad luck so leave those at home as well.

Hospital Gifts

When a loved one is sick in the hospital, flowers are a great way to brighten the room and show you care. In Japan, flowers make good “get well soon” gifts, but avoid giving a potted plant! In Japanese, “taking root” is called ???(neduku). This can be written in a different way that means “to stay in bed”. A potted plant creates the image that the patient will stay in the hospital bed and never rise…. not a good thing. Bouquets are safe as long as you steer clear of the color white and avoid flowers (like tulips) that droop after blooming as these also bring up images of death.

Traveling Gifts

These gifts are called omiyage and are bought by someone when traveling. Upon their return, the purchased omiyage is given to friends, family, and co-workers. Local snacks and treats from the visited location often make good omiyage.

Do you know any other interesting giving customs in Japan or your own country? If so, please leave a comment below, I’d love to know!

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