Japan considers gift giving an art form. When conducting business with a Japanese businessperson, you’ll be expected to present a gift during your first meeting and occasionally during subsequent meetings. When choosing an appropriate gift, you must take into consideration Japanese culture and the presentation of the gift as well as the gift itself.
Since gift giving is an art form, your gift needs to be in a box and beautifully wrapped, ideally by the store where it was purchased. Never give a Japanese business associate a gift sloppily wrapped or one in a gift bag. This shows disrespect. While businesspeople generally exchange gifts at the end of the meeting, you want to follow Japanese gift giving protocol by letting them know before the meeting ends that you have a present for them. You must use both hands and bow when offering the gift. Your business associate will respectfully decline accepting the gift once or twice, as is custom, before finally graciously accepting the present. The Japanese open gifts in private. This prevents a poor gift choice from causing any awkwardness or embarrassment.
Symbolism places an important role in Japanese culture as well as the art of gift giving. You must take this into consideration when choosing a gift so as not to insult your business associate. Numbers hold great meaning for the Japanese. The Japanese consider the number two lucky, so it’s appropriate to give gifts that come in pairs. Four and nine, on the other hand, are considered unlucky, so never give presents that come in sets of four or nine. You also need to consider the meanings of colors according to Japanese culture. The Japanese associate red with funerals, so never give a pen filled with red ink or use red ink to write in a card. White flowers such as lilies, lotus blossoms or camellias are given during times of bereavement and linked to funerals, so never give white flowers as a business gift. You also never want to give a sharp object such as knives, scissors or letter openers. These types of items symbolize cutting off a relationship.
When choosing your business gift, you can’t go wrong with presents of food such as gourmet cookies, expensive candy, frozen steaks or fresh fruit. Top shelf liquor such as imported scotch, cognac, bourbon, brandy or fine wines also makes a good business gift. You can give cuff links, pen and pencil sets or a gift that suits the hobbies of the receiver. Whatever you choose, it should not be manufactured in Japan; purchase your gift from your homeland. This helps to bridge cultural divides. Also, only purchase items from prominent name brands and never give a gift with your company logo on it.