What do you say when you give someone a gift? No, not “here,” or “look, I got you a gift,” but what is your gift saying? What are the wordless messages you are passing along when someone opens that special thing you gave them? There are a million possibilities but at the core, at the purest level, you are saying: I value you.
In Japan, gift-giving is less about the gift itself as the meaning behind it, which is why a simple gift is often the best. Japanese customs and the tradition of gift giving can be highly ritualized and formal but, at its heart, it’s a way to show that you appreciate someone, and that you’re grateful for their presence in your life. That gratefulness reaches its full flowering in the holidays of Ochugen and Oseibo, at the middle and the end of the year, respectively.
Ochugen and Oseibo are days specifically designed for gift giving, as opposed to gifts being an auxiliary part of it. Gifts are merely the medium, though, through which you show appreciation, and show someone you care. On Ochugen, which generally falls on July 15th, and Oseibo, which falls in mid-December (by the 20th), you are telling someone how much they mean to you. And there are many ways to transform your emotional sentiment into something physical. Here are a few ideas for Ochugen and Oseibo gifts.
A Brief History of Ochugen and Oseibo Gifts: A Changing Japanese Tradition
Before we get into the gift ideas, we should note that some of these old Japanese traditions and customs are changing. Ochugen and Oseibo began near the start of the Edo Period in the 1600s when it was considered a duty to give gifts to those you felt indebted to, such as a boss or a general. This happened twice a year and, as we said, became more and more ritualized.
But, recently, this idea has fallen out of favor with the younger generation, and in the broader culture, because it feels forced and presents the opportunity for favoritism. But many in Japan have actually transformed it away from a day where you give gifts out of obligation to one where you do so because you want to show someone that you care about them. It isn’t debt. It is love.
That spirit has always been there, and is now being revived. Beyond the ritual, there is joy. And that joy can come in many forms—i.e., let’s get to some gift ideas.
Ochugen and Oseibo Gift Ideas for Kids and Adults
So, what should you give as an Ochugen or Oseibo gift? Remember that the gifts themselves aren’t as important as what they say. That being said, though, here are some gift ideas that people will enjoy opening.
Sweets (Especially for Children)
Candy is pretty much a universal language, especially for children, which is why it is one of the most common gifts on Ochugen and Oseibo. A giant box of various candies is a traditional gift, and one that every child, or the young of heart, will appreciate. Some of the favorites include:
- Rice Candy
- Hello Panda
- Flower’s Kiss
Sweets (For the Adults This Time!)
Obviously, sweets aren’t only for children. Adults like sweets too, if my dentist bills are any indication. And there are many wonderful desserts in Japanese culture that you could make as a gift, giving the present of your own time and handicraft. One of my favorites is anmitsu.
Anmitsu is “a Japanese wagashi dessert with agar agar jelly, fruits, mochi, red bean paste, green tea ice cream and a good drizzle of sweet black sugar syrup.” So there are a lot of different tastes and flavors running through, as well as textures. This moves between ice cream, jello, and fruit salad, with the tea flavors combining with the fruit to create a summer-like vibe in your mouth.
Nami at JustOneCookbook gives a great breakdown on how to make this treat, which can be done in less than a half hour. Like the holidays themselves, this is a recipe that evolves and changes. Feel free to give it your own spin.
Art and Creativity
Art always makes a great gift, especially art representing the culture in which Ochugen and Oseibo were born. Japan has incredible traditions of both representational and nonrepresentational art, as well as some of the most interesting landscape techniques in human history. Needless to say, the poetry tradition, most well-known in the forms of Basho and Issa, is world-renowned and beloved. Any gifts celebrating this tradition are appreciated.
Or, you could help people make art of their own. Japanese ink painting is increasingly popular, and is an evolutionary step above the adult coloring books that are currently popular. Know someone who loves to create? Give them a book about how to develop their Japanese ink painting skills, and next holiday, you might get the best art of all.
An Ochugen and Oseibo Gift Exchange
Remember, the hierarchy that has sometimes defined Ochugen and Oseibo doesn’t do so anymore. You are free to give gifts to anyone who means something to you, not just to those to whom you feel in debt. These holidays have taken on a new, more meaningful spirit.
This means that you can send gifts to anyone around the world as a way of handing something to someone beyond the physical reach of your outstretched arms. One way to do so while saving time and money is by setting up an online gift exchange, like a Secret Santa.
By doing so, you can exchange gifts anonymously while making sure that people get a gift they will love. You can send gifts around the world. You can surprise, and be surprised. It’s an easy way to stay organized, and to make sure that on a special day, everyone knows they are valued.
Ochugen and Oseibo might not be a surprise. They have happened every year for centuries. But that makes the need to show someone how you feel even more important. By sharing gifts with friends and loved ones around the world, you step away from the rote and the ritualized. You remind yourself that we exist, and that our lives have joy and meaning, because of those around us. We hand out love—and receive happiness in return.
How do you show people you care on Ochugen and Oseibo? Tell us about your favorite gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfster. And, for inspired Ochugen and Oseibo dessert gifting, browse our Sweet Gift Guide.