A Guide to Gift Giving Etiquette in Japan

Gift giving is an important part of Japanese culture and social norms. In Japan, gifts are given on many occasions - as a thank you, to celebrate events and holidays, and to strengthen relationships. There are several unspoken rules and etiquette guidelines around gift giving that are good to know before visiting Japan or interacting with Japanese business partners or friends. In this blog post, we'll provide an overview of Japanese gift giving etiquette including suggestions for suitable gifts, wrapping, presenting gifts, reciprocation, and other tips. Understanding proper gift giving manners in Japan will help you avoid missteps and ensure your gifts are well-received.  

Suitable Gifts to Give in Japan:

In Japan, gifts are usually modest rather than lavish. Gift givers try to select thoughtful gifts that receivers will find practical and useful in their everyday lives. Some suitable gift ideas in Japan include:

  • Food items like fruit, snacks, sweets or traditional Japanese food products. High-quality fruit like melons are prized gifts. 
  • Drinks such as wine, whiskey, or sake. 
  • Flowers, especially chrysanthemums which symbolize purity and rejuvenation.
  • Stationery items like notebooks, pens, and calendars.
  • High-quality ceramics like tea cups or bowls.
  • Incense, candles, or essential oils for relaxation.
  • Books, especially on Japanese subjects like Japanese art, history, or culture.
  • Traditional Japanese items like fans, chopsticks, kimonos, or tea sets.
  • Gift certificates for restaurants, cafes, or stores.

For business gifts, choose useful office supplies or executive gifts. Avoid overly lavish or personal gifts that could be seen as bribery. Stick to premium but practical items.

Wrapping and Presenting Gifts in Japan:

The presentation and wrapping of a gift are very important in Japan. Pay attention to these elements:

  • Choose high-quality wrapping paper in neutral, muted colors like brown, black, white, or gray. Avoid showy wrapping paper.
  • Wrap the gift neatly and simply. Do not wrap multiple small gifts in one box.
  • Avoid overtly flashy ribbons, bows, or decoration. Simple is better.
  • Do not write the recipient's name directly on the gift. Write their name on an accompanying gift tag or card.
  • Gifts are usually presented and received with two hands as a sign of respect.
  • Bow when presenting and receiving a gift. 
  • Do not open the gift immediately after receiving it. Wait until later when you are alone.
  • Send a thank you note afterward expressing your appreciation.

If giving cash as a gift, present it in a special envelope called a noshi bukuro. These envelopes indicate luck and celebration. Never give bills that are wrinkled or dirty.  

Gift Reciprocation and Refusal in Japan:

In Japan, gifts are expected to be reciprocated. The return gift does not need to be expensive, but some form of reciprocation is polite. Here are some tips:

  • Reciprocate within 1-2 months of receiving the original gift.
  • Return gifts should be approximately equal in value to the original gift. 
  • Reciprocate with similar items to the original category, like sweets for sweets.
  • If reciprocating with food items or drinks, choose high-quality premium brands. 
  • Handmade gifts are also appreciated as return gifts.
  • Refusing a gift outright is seen as rude. If you cannot accept a gift, explain your reasons graciously.
  • Some acceptable reasons to gently refuse a gift are lack of reciprocity means, dietary restrictions, or lack of space.
  • If you do refuse a gift, reciprocate somehow with a note, card, or smaller token of appreciation.

The exception to reciprocation is for ochugen and oseibo seasonal gifts. These do not require direct return gifts.

Other Japanese Gift Giving Etiquette Notes:

Here are some additional tips for getting Japanese gift giving right:

  • Don't give four or nine gifts, as those numbers are associated with death and suffering.
  • Avoid opening gifts in front of the giver, as this could be seen as greedy. 
  • Punctuality is key. Arrive on time or slightly early for gift exchanges.  
  • Do not regift items you receive. It is always best to give new gifts.
  • Be aware of astrological signs and blood types for personalized gift giving.
  • Japanese write recipient's names in red and giver's names in black ink.
  • At traditional weddings, cash is the standard gifting etiquette.
  • Do not send gifts to someone in mourning from a death. Condolence money is more appropriate.
  • In business, bigger gifts generally go from junior to senior positions. 
  • Reciprocate perishable gifts like food with longer lasting ones.

Following Japanese gift giving etiquette shows respect, strengthens bonds, and enables smooth relationships. With these tips, your gifts will delight recipients and avoid awkward moments!

FAQ about Japanese Gift Giving Etiquette

FAQ about Japanese Gift Giving Etiquette

What is the tradition of gift-giving in Japan?

Gift-giving has been an important cultural tradition in Japan for centuries. Even in ancient times, gifts were exchanged to build relationships and as offerings for the gods. Today gifts are given for major holidays, ceremonies, weddings, funerals, apologies, gratitude and more.

Why is gift-giving so important in Japan?

In Japan, gift-giving is seen as an important way to strengthen bonds, show respect, and express gratitude. Gifts are given not just for occasions but as a social norm in many relationships. Refusing or neglecting to reciprocate gifts would be seen as insulting.

How do you give someone a gift in Japanese?

Use both hands to present a gift and bow when giving and receiving one. Gifts should be beautifully wrapped, ideally in muted colors with minimal decoration. Don't open gifts in front of the giver. Send a thank you note afterward.

What is an acceptable gift in Japan?

Stick to gifts that are modest rather than lavish. Suitable gifts include food items, flowers, stationery, ceramics, teas, incense, candles, books, gift certificates, and traditional items like fans. For business, professional items like premium pens or planners.


According to experts who write for us on gifts and gadgets, Gift giving is a vital part of etiquette and culture in Japan. By understanding when gifts are appropriate, selecting right gift items, presenting them properly, and reciprocating respectfully, you can fully participate in this cultural practice. Avoid causing offense by following the guidelines around gift presentation, wrapping, refusing gifts, and reciprocation outlined above. With thoughtfulness and care, your gifts will be appreciated and cherished. Proper Japanese gift giving etiquette demonstrates your respect, understanding, and appreciation for your recipients.

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