Monday, December 11, 2006

Oseibo..Gift Giving

Oseibo or the customary gift exchange to relatives,colleagues,acquaintances and others takes place during December in Japan.
Gifts are given to thank them for their help during the year.They are also given in mid-summer or ochugen.
One newspaper article (The Daily Yomiuri Thursday December 7 pg 15) describes the gifts as "an embodiment of social obligations".Gift giving in Japan is often obligatory rather than being a sign of any personal connection between people.An example would be "giri-choco" whereby females workers feel obliged to give chocolate to male co-workers and bosses to celebrate St Valentines Day.

There is a certain amount of uniformity regarding the whole gift-giving business.Oseibo are today usually bought from department stores or shopping centres.One will often get gifts through the mail or send them via couriers.The twice yearly gift giving rituals generate a lot of money for the regional and national economies of Japan.

Another feature is the fact that much value is placed on the actual wrapping paper one uses for the gift.Talking about oseibo in class today some of the students agreed and rated a present wrapped in the local Matsuzakaya Department Store paper very highly.

There is also a standard selection of gift items.One must take into account such factors as the receivers age,sex,social position and what the relationship is.Again the students came up with a list of "safe gifts" similiar to the one in the newspaper article.These safe gifts include household items that can be used by everyone for example liquor,sake,vegetable oil,coffee and drink sets.

Finally gift-giving also highlights the importance of obligation-based relationships in Japan or ningen kankei.Japanese people realise that they owe much to others in their every day dealings with others.One way of showing their gratitude and recognition of this debt to others is by exchanging gifts.Put simplistically the value of the gift given reflects the value that you put on that relationship and person.Obvivously then a 3,000 yen coffee set from a local shopping centre sends a different message about the relationship than a 10,000 yen imported wine and cheese collection from an upmarket central city department store.
The photo above shows a commonly sold example of oseibo, a boxed set of various cans of fruit juice.

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