Obligation gifts

The giving of gifts is a big part of Japanese culture.  For example, whenever a person goes somewhere, even for a few days, it is expected that they will return with gifts for friends and coworkers.  These gifts are usually sweets of some kind.  Consequently, wherever you go, stores are filled with boxes of individually wrapped sweets sold specifically for this purpose.   As teachers, we are often the recipients of these gifts when our adult students have been somewhere.  As a result, we’ve had the opportunity to sample a wide variety of Japanese sweets!

Gifts are also a way of showing appreciation.  For example, at church yesterday we were given two fresh mangoes by Mrs. Sunaga.  This was her way of saying thank you for our prayers and concern on behalf of her husband who is in hospital recovering from a heart attack.  We’ve also enjoyed a jar of her homemade jam given to us as a welcome gift shortly after we started attending the church.

At church yesterday, we learned about another aspect of gift giving.  When our friend, Seiko, gave birth to her wee son, Ayumu, we bought a baby gift.  Knowing that baby showers are not held in Japan, we took the gift to church and gave it to her husband, Atsuo.  We noticed that many other people did the same thing.  Yesterday, Atsuo and Seiko arrived at church with a huge box of gifts to give to all those who had given gifts to Ayumu!  We were presented with a nicely wrapped tin box of very tasty sweets.   The box itself is lovely and will be a treasured keepsake.  More important to me, however, was the handwritten note that accompanied it thanking us for the gift as well as for our prayers and encouragement during Seiko’s pregnancy.

Since we don’t know any engaged couples, it isn’t likely that we’ll have the opportunity to attend a wedding while we’re in Japan but it’s my understanding that they are very costly affairs because the bride and groom are expected to give gifts to all their guests!  They also receive gifts, usually money, but my impression is that the gifts that they give are often quite elaborate.  Adult students have told me about giving not only food, but also dinnerware and other household items.


3 thoughts on “Obligation gifts

  1. The most common 義理 (obligation) gifts is souvenirs from a trip for everyone who knows you went, a return gift when someone gives you a present, and Valentines / White Day chocolate for co-workers, et al.

    You can read my short FAQ about Valentines (and White Day) in Japan, including a brief explanation about 義理チョコ (Obligation chocolate) here:


    “Tokyo Five”

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