It takes a true Japanese to understand the art of giving gifts. As a foreigner you will rather sooner than later be confronted with either receiving or giving gifts and it will amaze you in many ways. In our case it was when we invited colleagues over for lunch.
I was embarrased by the amount of gifts they brought; both the men and women of the two couples handed over gifts. To sum it up: we got two bottles of wine and a selection of Japanese beers, blue cheese, a box of cookies, peach jelley and two boxes of rice cakes. I felt a little uncomfortable and started to feel insecure about the lunch I had just prepared. I wasn’t sure how to thank them in an appropriate way. Also, should I open the gifts immediately? I did and offered the ricecakes and peach jelley as desert. Probably I made some etiquette mistakes along the way.
Maybe not so much in this case (we are foreigners and it was an informal encounter), but etiquette is important. The value of the present, the wrapping, the bag, the way of handing it over, the way of receiving it,… many things to take into account. The complexity of gift-giving already reveils itself in the terminology: there is oseibo (end-of-year gifts), ochugen( midsummer gift), omiyage (souvenir after a trip) to name just a few. Traditionally the latter is a treat specific to the place you’ve just visited. Last week was Obon- holiday. It celebrates the deadm so lots of people return to their family’s homes. This means: a lot of omiyage presents when you return to the office. Luckily Stan was nice enough to share 😉
P.S. Before coming to Japan I raised my eyebrows over the amount of sweets and Belgian beers Stan was shipping. Now that I am here, I fully understand why. So if you are planning a trip to Japan never forget to pack some treats!