Gift Giving in Japan: Okaeshi Part 1

There is a gift-giving custom in Japan that frustrates many foreigners who live here called okaeshi.  It is gift-giving as an obligation for having received a gift from someone… a return gift.

My first weddings in Japan were surprising… while guests usually give generous money gifts to the bride and groom, they leave with a bag full of gifts!  My favorite Japanese dishes were wedding gifts that I received for attending a wedding– okaeshi.

While I have loved giving gifts to neighbor friends who have had babies recently, I have been appalled at the nice presents that I have received several weeks later from these moms who have their hands quite full!  I have found out that one is expected to give a gift worth 50% of the original given gift’s value.  So the new mom needs to figure out the value of the baby gift they received, and then go out shopping to get an appropriate gift to give back.

So, I decided the last time that I gave a gift to a kindergarten mom who had just had her second child that I would give it to her and tell her that she really didn’t need to give me a return gift- that it is an American custom to give a gift when a baby is born, and no okaeshi gift is needed.  Owen and Annie and I had a wonderful time visiting the family, including grandparents, several weeks after the baby was born, and giving them some baby gifts.

But my words didn’t help.  A week later she came up to me in the school yard with a package in hand, apologetically saying it was just a little something.  I realized that I was only putting more pressure on her by asking her not to do anything… so I received the gift and said thank you several times (it was a coffee mug and matching hand towel).  Okaeshi!

And then there’s the whole Tupperware issue.  If someone is at your home for an event, and you send them home with a Tupperware of leftovers – beware!  When they return the dish or the Tupperware, they are obligated to put something in it– some Japanese cookies, or rice cakes, or something they have recently made.  Okaeshi.

We have gotten used to okaeshi, like it or not.  Tomorrow, I will write about how I’m learning to take advantage of the system….


17 thoughts on “Gift Giving in Japan: Okaeshi Part 1

  1. Sue, this is SO funny because the Johnston household is in a “Okaeshi Competition” with our next door neighbors, the Maniwa’s. We have bounced back and forth pretty equally with our gift giving, but recently, I think they are about 3 ahead of us. Darn! She even brought some home-made bamboo shoots for me to sample. Before that it was some sort of tsukemono that looked like…well, never mind. I don’t think my pink cupcakes and butterscotch cookies are quite up to par with what they’ve given us. Oh well. On goes the Okaeshi game…

  2. Hi Sue! I can’t wait to hear how you make the system WORK for you! HAHAHA! Yep, I’m like Nozomi, always behind one or two. And, the more I ask folks NOT to give me a return gift, well, I am just wasting my breath. Sometimes I think I should not give a gift because I don’t want to put them through the trouble of giving a gift back. Especially if it is a new baby. But – I WANT to celebrate with them! So…around and around we go! Looking forward to the next installment! BTW, when do you head back to the States, and for how long?

  3. Hi, this Okaeshi sounds like it could cause many headaches! What type of gifts require an Okaeshi?

    I have a friend in Japan who is posting me a book on Japanese lifestyle, to assist with my learning. I feel bad enough that she is doing this for me, not to mention I know the shipping costs out of Japan are bad too.

    I was going to send a gift in return to say thank you. But I’m worried that she might then feel obliged to return a gift once more.

    Okaeshi sounds like could be a never ending cycle, maybe I am just being confused.

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