Tokyo / DPA
Visitors landing in Japan often take a while to realize what they haven’t brought enough of in their luggage: presents.
Gift-giving plays a huge role in Japan throughout the year, not just at New Year. At weddings and funerals, on holidays or as part of business, presents in the world’s third biggest economy are a courtesy that everyone expects.
And the gift industry is lucrative; the market grew to be worth 10 trillion yen (85 billion dollars) in the past year, an increase of 2 per cent, according to the Yano Research Institute.
“The gift market is huge,” says Suga Imai, spokeswoman for the Tokyo International Gift Show.
The show is where individuals as well as businesses can find the latest ideas for small and large gifts.
As last year came to an end, “oseibo,” gifts with which the Japanese thank business partners and family members for their good relationships, were in high demand.
“At work we’re getting gifts every day in the post from our business partners at the moment,” said one worker at a large translation agency in Tokyo.
The presents often come in the form of foodstuffs, which are shared out among colleagues.
The German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan gives some advice to its members on its website.
“It is good manners to give gifts in Japan. They shouldn’t be too valuable, so as not to cause any embarrassment to the recipient, nor should they be too cheap,” it says.
“You can’t go too wrong by buying a well-known product with a good reputation. The brand name is more important than whether the present is original.”
Even when the Japanese go away on holiday, they’re always on the look out for nice gifts to buy. Family members as well as colleagues expect an “omiyage,” a souvenir, on the return.
Most people bring back local delicacies – that’s why souvenir shops at the train stations in Japanese holiday resorts often resemble grocery stores.
In order to save yourself the stress of gift-buying, in some places you can pay a company to do it for you.
You can order presents at airports or over the internet from wherever you’re going and have it delivered to yourself at home.
If you receive a gift in Japan, it’s considered polite to give a gift back yourself as soon as possible thereafter, making sure its value is approximately the same.
But as society ages – which in Japan is probably happening faster than in any other industrialized nation – new trends are beginning to emerge.
As the market for “formal gifts” is in decline, the market for “casual gifts” is growing, says the Yano research institute.
If previously the most important thing was to give something, and not what one gave, presents are now becoming more personal.
And whether it’s for Mother’s Day or for the “Festival of Longevity” that’s held when a person turns 60, the market for presents for older people is also growing.
At the same time, older Japanese who have more savings tucked away than younger generations are buying their grandchildren expensive gifts like schoolbags worth up to 100,000 yen, according to Imai.
Another new trend is for young women, who are now more likely to work and face stiff competition in the job market, to reward themselves with gifts.
That doesn’t just include material things, but also experiences like fine dining, a spa trip, an overnight stay in a luxury hotel or even hang-gliding.