In Japanese culture, giving gifts to those you care about – friends, family, neighbors, teachers, business colleagues – is as much of a deep-rooted cultural tradition as it is a socially-expected obligation. From picking out the gift to wrapping, presenting, and receiving the gift, every aspect of the process is a finely executed art. Thus, the act of giving and the ritualistic manner in which it is performed often becomes much more important than the gift itself. If you live outside of Japan, you can adopt some of these Japanese gift-giving traditions to make your own exchange of gifts more meaningful and significant. See the Gift Giving Lessons From the Japanese!
Selecting the Perfect Japanese Gift
According to Japanese custom, choosing the right gift is an important step. A costly gift may be overwhelming and cause a person to feel guiltily indebted to you. In contrast, the receiver may view a cheap and irrelevant gift as representative of your attitude toward the receiver. The best gift, then, is often small. It is a thoughtful gift that only you and the receiver understand the significance of (think inside jokes, stories, or circumstances). To the Japanese, the symbolism of a gift is carefully pondered. For example, gifts in pairs are considered lucky. Whereas quantities of four or nine of something are unlucky and always avoided. Think about your own personal customs, symbolism, and beliefs in selecting well-intended presents.
Wrapping Your Gift with Care
Each step of giving is an art. But none so more recognizable to other cultures as the beautifully wrapped parcels from Japan. How the object is wrapped is sometimes much more important than the gift itself. Often, Japanese men and women will have their gifts wrapped right in the department store. Where trained staff delicately and expertly fold rice paper and mizuhiki craft cord into a work of art. For you, this is where you may let your artistic flourish shine! The aesthetic quality of the covering is crucial; wrap your gift carefully, beautifully, thoughtfully. Never give an unwrapped present.
Presenting the Gift to Your Recipient
When it comes time to hand over the precious item, Japanese custom demands an attempt to do it privately, discreetly, and without much attention. The about-face is significant in Japan. It could be horribly embarrassing and uncomfortable for the receiver to be presented with a gift they don’t care for in front of others. The giver is also expected to be very humble, passing off their offering with both hands and acting as though the present is no big deal, just a small trinket, nothing special… regardless of the quality or expense of the product. Humility and kindness in giving transcend into other cultures; you are extending a part of yourself and your heart in these generosity transactions.
Gift Giving Lessons From the Japanese
The final step in the careful dance of Japanese giving is, of course, receiving the gift. It is an unspoken law that if you give, you shall receive… and that if you received, you need to turn around and give back. Sometimes the process can become an ongoing competition of each party giving back a better gift than the last they receive.
But of utmost importance is the appreciation, respect, and gratitude for another person’s thoughtfulness. The gift is to be received with both hands, just as it is given and contemplated. Japanese men and women will observe the beautiful precision of the gift wrapping. Unbinding the gift ever so carefully so as not to tear or cut the enclosure. And then carefully wrap it back up as if it had never rustled. This is a lesson we teach our children, to open things slowly to show appreciation. And one that should be repeated by ourselves. Enjoy your present, and ponder how lucky you are to be blessed by another’s altruism.
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