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Gift Giving to Friends and Family

by Ewa Nowogorski

Americans love to give gifts to their friends and family on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, and so on. In Japan, there are similar sentiments.

Japanese gift giving is similar to American gift giving in terms of sentiment and novelty. It’s fun to receive gifts from parents and relatives as children, fun to exchange gifts with friends as teenagers, and after adulthood it becomes kind of. . . meh. But receiving a gift is always nice.

Japanese kids love getting gifts from their parents and grandparents, and they especially look forward to their birthdays and Christmas. However, whereas in America it’s common to get multiple gifts for any occasion, in Japan children usually only get a modest one or two gifts for any given occasion. Japan loves to teach the idea of modesty to its children. I know a child that got a Demon Slayer themed surgical mask (thanks to COVID-19) for her birthday, and she seemed to be extremely delighted with that gift.

As teenagers, everyone relies on their often tiny allowances to buy gifts for themselves and others, so when it comes to gift giving at this age it’s usually very modest as well. Giving cute school supplies and writing utensils is pretty common around this age.

As adults, women tend to give their female friends cute gifts more often than men do. For birthdays of friends, it is common to invite them out to dinner and pay for their meal with a group of friends who all know each other. Gift giving even at this age is not extravagant and is even less so amongst family members. Buying birthday cakes or cute pastries is usually the extent that most families go for each other.

Gift giving is mostly viewed and treated as something to build face and build good relationships, and it’s not particularly necessary to buy things for people you are already close with in Japan. Although it is always the thought that counts.

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