Ochugen and Oseibo Gift-giving Traditions

Gift giving is an important Japanese custom where gifts are given not just on special occasions but also as a social obligation. The emphasis in the Japanese tradition of gift giving is not on the gift but rather on the presentation and thoughtfulness in which it is presented.

Sake gift

Sake.

There are two main seasonal gift giving traditions in Japan where people exchange gifts. Ochugen are gifts given in the middle of the year, in July. Oseibo are year-end gifts given in December. During the ochugen and oseibo months, many stores in Japan have seasonal gifts arranged on special racks. Gifts are given from someone who would like to express gratitude and appreciation for a person.

Packaged grapes

Packaged grapes.

Ochugen

The midyear gift, ochugen or chugen is derived from the ceremonial day of Taoism on July 15th of the lunar calendar. It is also the day of the Bon Festival (Ura-bon) in Buddhism.  Gifts were initially offered to the deceased during the Bon Festival. Over time, Taoism was slowly integrated with Buddhism. The Chugen Ceremony has evolved into the Japanese custom giving gifts as a way to show gratitude as is the ochugen tradition of giving gifts sometime in July. Gifts given usually depend on the receiver such as sweets for children, fruits for teachers, or alcohol for a boss.

Ochugen gifts have special symbols written on paper or gift card with red and white knotted ribbons. The colors red and white are considered celebratory colors in Japan.

omiyage

Oseibo

The year-end gift, Oseibo or Seibo is given in December. “O” is a prefix that is applied to politely paraphrase the word. “Seibo” in Japanese means “end of the year” and was originally an offering for ancestors at the time.

Oseibo is usually given as early as late November to the 20th of December. Oseibo is given much the same way as ochugen gifts. The is the customary gift card or paper with red and white knotted ribbons. If a gift is given later than the 20th of December it will considered as “Nenga” or “Onenga” which is given from the 26th of December to the 7th of January, to celebrate the new year.

There are no specific gifts to be chosen as oseibo,it depends on the person being given the present. Common presents include sweets, snacks, fruits and alcohol.

Ochugen and oseibo are usually given to teachers, family physicians, boss, matchmakers (nakoudo) and relatives. Ochugen and oseibo presents need not be extravagant or expensive. They can be tokens of how much you appreciate a person. This is just one of the many traditions that make Japanese culture truly unique and exciting!