by Ewa Nowogorski
Giving gifts to neighbors is one of the most unavoidable types of gift giving you will have to do in Japan. Whereas in America you don’t particularly give gifts to neighbors unless it’s for another special occasion, meeting neighbors for the first time and parting with them often requires some sort of gift in Japan.
In America, neighbors that get along well with each other will often give each other some extra food when they make too much, and the stereotype of the crazy, disliked neighbor is more common than the stereotype of the friendly one. In short, Americans tend to not get along with their neighbors a lot of the time.
But in Japan, there is an effort made to get along with them, and people give gifts to neighbors when meeting them for the first time. First impressions are very important in Japanese society where people are quick to judge external factors. When you move into a neighborhood or apartment, it is customary to give a small gift and go out of your way to greet your new neighbors. Gifts costing 500 ~ 2000 yen ($5-20 USD) are acceptable, and the most popular gift is some kind of nicely packed snacks, but towels and other useful home commodities are also another common gift. You usually have to give gifts to the neighbors directly next to you and also the people who live above and below you if you live in an apartment building. You should give the gift and make your rounds within a few days of moving, and do it an an appropriate time of day. If you cannot contact your neighbors at an appropriate time, leaving the gift with a short introductory letter in a bag hanging on their doorknob is not impolite.
Neighbors also give each other gifts when moving out of a place, although this practice is becoming less common. Again, giving food gifts is the most common. In general, non-food items are avoided because people have their own tastes and something that cannot be quickly consumed or used everyday will ultimately become a burden for the receiver, as they are now stuck with some permanent object that they neither want nor have the audacity to throw away. Also, Japanese houses are small, so there is generally no place to put such items. To summarize, greeting the neighbors and giving them a small gift is a great way to start off relations with your neighbors and build good repertoire and peace.