The most popular question I get from my European friends is “What to get my Japanese friend?” My answer is: it should be a very careful decision; you must consider cultural differences between Japan and your country and always take into account the kind of relationship you have.
It is important, because, as you understand, if you give flowers, jewelry or any other expensive stuff, it would often be considered “too much”. Yes, the Japanese culture is known as especially polite – but politeness doesn’t mean that you always have to buy your friends something special. The most important thing you need to remember while choosing gifts is what your friend likes and what he or she would want.
For example, I always pack Riesling wine into my suitcase when going back to Japan as a gift for my friends who love sweet alcohol, a German-made chocolate rabbit for my sister, who loves animals, and so on. I rarely buy souvenirs made for keeping, like cuckoo clock or Matryoshka doll, because the Japanese house, unlike American or European, isn’t so big, so something that your friends can consume would be recommended.
Also, I don’t recommend buying anything expensive, because it would make your friends think “Oh, he/she got me such a nice present, I should also give him/her an expensive gift next time”, and this feeling can become a burden in your relationship.
Some principles for gift selection
I recommend you to consider following hints when choosing gifts for your Japanese friends.
- Not so heavy/big;
- Not so expensive;
- Something special from your country (something people cannot buy in Japan);
- Something suitable for your friends.
Following these hints, here are some gifts you can get your Japanese friend when visiting them.
Alcohol (especially wine)
Of course, you have to know if your friends like to drink alcohol. You can always buy wine that costs around 10~20 €, or sometimes a country-specific alcohol, like vodka from Russia or țuică from Romania. However, thanks to the importer Japanese are able to buy most popular alcohol brands at home, for example, Jägermeister and Absolut Vodka, so these brands should be avoided.
Sweets from your country would also be considered as nice gifts for your friends, especially if they have a big family or belong to some kind of community, because then they can share your gift with someone. For example, if you come from country famous with chocolate, like Switzerland or Belgium, chocolate would be the perfect gift. If from Germany, Marzipan is also cool!
When you come from a country famous with some kind of tea or coffee, like Britain, India or African countries, it will also be a perfect gift. As you know, Japanese are used to drinking green tea, but they also like to drink black tea – in a British way, with milk – thus you don’t have worry about getting them tea they won’t like.
A cup for drinking tea or coffee, or a beer glass would also be cool, as they are pretty practical. Ideally a mug with a picture of your home town – it will be considered a nice souvenir since it will remind of your visit.
The best idea is, however, to get your Japanese friends something seasonal. For example, my sister is always happy when I get her a chocolate from the Easter Rabbit, something connected to Halloween, Chinese New Year or Christmas market. Depending on the country, there are different seasonal events everywhere and you can always buy something exciting and exotic for your friends.