International Gift Giving Etiquette - Japan

GIFT GIVING IN JAPAN* - Gift Giving Etiquette



  • Gift-giving is an important part of Japanese business protocol. Moreover, gifts are exchanged among colleagues on July 15 and January 1 to commemorate midyear and the year's end respectively.

  • It is a good policy to bring an assortment of gifts for your trip. This way, if you are unexpectedly presented with a gift, you will be able to reciprocate.

  • The emphasis in Japanese business culture is on the ritual of gift-giving, rather than the gift itself. For this reason, you may receive a gift that seems too modest, or conversely, extravagant. An expensive gift will not be perceived as a bribe.

  • A wrapped gift is often carried inside a shopping bag to avoid ostentation and minimize any hint that a gift is about to be presented.

  • The best time to present a gift is toward the end of your visit. You can discreetly approach the recipient, indicating that you have a small gift. Avoid giving a gift early in a relationship or at any conspicuous moment.

  • A gift for an individual should be given in private. If you are presenting a gift to a group of people, have all of the intended recipients assembled.

  • Present gifts with both hands.

  • It is customary to comment that the gift you are presenting, even if it is extravagant, is ““tsumaranai mon” [“an uninteresting or dull thing”]. This statement is meant to convey, “Our relationship is more important than this trivial item.”

  • It is a mistake to give the same gift to two or more Japanese of unequal rank. People will also take offense if you are in the presence of a group of people and give a gift to one person, but fail to give one to the others who are present.

  • Gifts are opened in private, because if the gift turns out to be a poor choice, “loss of face” will result. Also, if several gifts are presented to people of different status, opening them privately prevents any possible comparisons.

  • Before accepting a gift, it is polite to modestly refuse at least once or twice before finally accepting.

  • Ensure that your gifts are wrapped. It's safest to leave this task to a store or hotel gift-wrapping service.

  • The safest gift-wrapping choices are pastel-coloured papers, without bows. Avoid wrapping a gift with brightly covered papers or bows.

  • If you are invited to a Japanese home, bring flowers [an uneven number], cakes or candy.

  • If you receive a gift, be sure to reciprocate.

  • Gifts in pairs are considered lucky.


  • foreign, prestigious name-brand items

  • imported scotch, cognac, bourbon, brandy or fine wines [top-quality brands only]

  • frozen steaks

  • gourmet foodstuffs, fresh fruit

  • electronic toys [if children are on your gift-list]

  • cuff links

  • pen and pencil sets

  • something that reflects the interests and tastes of the recipient

  • a simple commemorative photograph [i.e.,taken from a gathering that the recipient attended]


  • Lilies, lotus blossoms, and camellias are associated with funerals. White flowers of any kind should be avoided. There is also a superstition that potted plants encourage sickness.

  • Giving four or nine of anything is considered unlucky.

  • Red Christmas cards should be avoided, since funeral notices are customarily printed in this colour.

*Lafayette De Mente, Boye.  Japan Business Etiquette - Gift Giving.  Executive Planet.  04 Aug. 2004  <>.

Above:  The flag of Japan








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