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arrowThe Fine Art of Gift-Giving in Japan

When invited to a Japanese person's home, never go empty-handed. Take some cake, alcoholic beverage or perhaps some flowers.

Gift season
O-chugen -- summer gift season (July)
O-seibo -- winter gift season (Dec.)

Presents are given to those who have been of assistance. Not only between individuals but companies as well.
Don't be surprised if a gift arrives from a total stranger or his company. It is just a matter of formality.

Giving cash
There are a few times when it is customary to give money as a gift. One is at a funeral ceremony. The money must be wrapped in a special envelope designed for the occasion. Relatives, friends and company of the deceased may send a large wreath with their name on it. The second is at a wedding ceremony. The money is put in a special envelope (easy to find at a shop since it is the most gorgeous). The third is Otoshi dama, it is a New Year custom that used to be a gift of some coins in a small envelope given by relatives to children, but now it contains banknotes.

Gift certificates
These are available at department stores and can be exchanged for goods of a certain value. Convenient when the sender can't decide on a suitable present. If you want to buy a friend a bag, for example, but you are not sure of her taste, simply send a gift certificate and tell her to choose herself a bag. Tax is charged when buying these certificates.

The returning of gifts is a common custom. A 'thank-you-for-the-gift' gift. The idea behind this is the sharing of happiness. A similar thing happens at weddings, when all the guests at the ceremony receive a gift before they leave.

arrowExcuse me, EXCUSE ME!

Gentlemen first! Ladies first is not the rule. When entering a building or getting in an elevator, the ones who get in first are the winners. Busy businessmen will push you out of the way, so watch out for bruises.

In Japanese society, especially in business, it used to be that a person was not usually addressed by their name but instead by their rank or profession. So you might hear "Mr. Section Chief!" or "Mr. President!". When the person has no special title they might be addressed as "Excuse me!" ( "sumimasen"). These days however, a number of companies are abandoning this tradition and starting to call people by their last name.

The stationmaster, landlord, greengrocer etc. are usually called by the names of their professions. So you can call the greengrocer 'yaoya-san' and he will call you okusan (wife, or Mrs.). Okusan is used as a form of address by friends of the family, even though they would prefer to use the real name.

arrowAnything We Forgot?

When bumping into a Japanese person you have met before, think of the weather, then say good morning, afternoon or evening, and make a comment about the heat or cold. Remember the Japanese words for the weather to use as greetings. Another common from of greeting is 'dochira e' or 'where are you going?' and the usual answer is 'chotto soko made' or 'just down there'. Here, the question and answer have no real meaning. Then say 'ja' which means 'see you' and you have had your first conversation in fluent Japanese.

Additional Business Tips
Japanese business is littered with manners, dos and don'ts, styles, customs and everything else you can think of. So, just to keep from embarrassing yourself in public, here are some additional pointers on Japanese businessmen.
Firstly, you must have noticed by now that the Japanese do not openly express their emotions. They don't laugh out loud, and so the logical assumption would be, it might be best that you didn't either.
Secondly, you might also have noticed that they are usually polite. Are you in for a surprise! They're all nice and polite inside the office, but once outside or they happen to be in groups, they're just the same as all the other obnoxious people, maybe worse. And don't even expect a greeting from them unless they actually know you. I don't know, must be all that stress getting to their head.
Thirdly, never expect an opinion! Rarely ever will you get a Japanese person to willingly express their own opinion. That's how it goes, even in college classes, you could probably do that commercial that they have in the US? The one by Sprint where they claim their phone lines are so good that you could here a pin drop? Well, it will probably be silent enough to actually test their claim.
Lastly, always remember, the cell phone, not a dog, is man's best friend.

Business cards
Business cards or Meishi are essential in Japan. These should be exchanged at the start of any introduction. (See also "Business")

These are never worn inside Japanese style homes, restaurants, temples or inns. Slippers are usually provided. Separate bathroom slippers are also provided, but these should not be worn outside the bathroom.

Tips are not necessary at restaurants or on taxis.

Copyright by IMA Co., 1999