Japanese love to give gifts.
While it is common in all countries to give gifts for birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions, in Japan people paying even a casual visit often bring a gift as a token of respect or affection for the host. Many years ago, Richard Allen, then President Reagan’s National Security Advisor, had to resign because he had failed to report a 1,000 check and a watch given him by a Japanese publishing company in gratitude for his granting them an interview. In Japan, it is not at all unusual to give gifts to people who consent to interviews and otherwise provide information, but in the United States, government officials at all levels are required to report any gifts they may receive. As such, the Allen incident illustrates how much Japanese and American gift-giving customs differ.
Ochugen and Oseibo
Best-known of Japan’s many customary gifts are the ochugen and oseibo gifts. The ochugen (mid-year) gift often serves in lieu of the greeting in the hot summer months to inquire after the health and well-being of friends and work associates, and the oseibo (year-end) gift stems from the custom of giving someone a gift as a token of appreciation for everything he/she has done for you during the past year. Despite the efforts of modern-minded critics to do away with such empty formalities, seasonal gifts are still regularly exchanged among individuals and companies.
A large variety of gifts are given on a number of happy occasions: such personal milestones as the 7-5-3 festival, starting or graduating from school, becoming an adult, getting a promotion at work, and recovering from an illess; and it is a real headache for many housewives to find money in the household budget for all of these gifts.
Like many other typically Japanese customs, gift-giving seems quite illogical on the surface, yet somehow it makes sense in the context of human relations which themselves defy logical explanation.