Corporate Gift Giving in Japan

Japan continues to rise in the art of maintaining remarkable goodwill with its business partners. More than ever before, the Land of the Rising Sun offers corporate gifts as a way of giving high regard to both customers and employees.

Gifts do not have to be of high value, although if they are, this will not be considered a bribe or insult. For senior Japanese executives however, the gifts should be higher quality with increasing rank. It is important to observe gift giving etiquette because failure to do so will surely cause offense.

Gifts should be wrapped, but the paper should not be too bright, nor white. Be especially wary of white because it symbolizes death. Also never give things in sets of four, because the Japanese word for four, “shi”, closely resembles the word for death. Unfortunately, this rules out golf balls. The Japanese can be very superstitious about this.

Both hands must always be used to present a gift, or even a business card.

Never show up with a gift in unexpected situations, except on special occasions such as a first meeting when it will be obvious that you are giving something. Instead, you should let drop some kind of subtle hint that you would like to present a small token of respect or memento in the near future.

When the gift is for a group, make sure that all are assembled before making the presentation and bear in mind that it is considered extremely rude to present a gift to only one recipient. It must either be presented to the whole group, or a gift given to each individual member.

The gift itself should be downplayed as much as possible. This is usual in all Asian cultures. The friendship should be allowed to come to the forefront rather than the material object which is symbolic of it.

Monetary gifts or ones displaying the company logo are not usually acceptable in Japan.

As for when to present your gift, the end of a visit is the best time. Corporate gifts are usually given during mid-year, i.e. on the 15th of July, and at the end of the year, on January the 1st.

It is not difficult to choose a gift for a Japanese person, although as has been mentioned, if multiple gifts are to be made, a strict ranking of worth is essential according to company position. Products which are unavailable in Japan are always welcome, as are extremely expensive ones. Pen which is a symbol of knowledge, is one appropriate gifts for Japanese colleagues. It is also easy to pack.

Gift giving in the Pacific rim, on the other hand, is not as formal and ritual-bound as in Japan although the importance of a corporate gift is also considered essential as much as showing slight reluctance in accepting a business gift.

Corporate gifts are a bit more problematic in China, where giving gifts to officials was banned during the communist regime. Gift-giving is enjoying a popular resurgence, but to avoid giving the impression that it is a bribe, the following guidelines should be observed: your gift should not be too expensive, should carry the company logo and preferably be presented to a group rather than to a single executive.

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