Building business relationships and gift giving—Japan
In Japan, it is common for colleagues to exchange presents. This is a tradition of reciprocation. According to Geert Hofstede, the Japanese are very high in Power Distance and place a great deal of important on rank. Gift giving is a sign of appreciation and can be used to display your acknowledgement of an individual’s hospitality or rank. Gifts can be presented at meetings, dinners, lunches, and even negotiations. As this is an important part of the Japanese culture, it should be done skillfully.
The Japanese are often conservative and prefer to know when they will be receiving a gift. To avoid embarrassing your host, never surprise them with a gift, but inform them that they will be receiving it. Present it at the end of your stay rather than in the middle of it. Doing otherwise may signal that you expect reciprocation of your gesture. The Japanese will often strive to please you, so be sure to avoid admiring anything that belongs to a Japanese person too closely. They may feel obliged to give it to you.
If you know that gifts will be exchanged, prepare well in advance. Some great ideas for gifts include Grade A beef, high-quality fruits or wines, and bourbon and other whiskeys. If giving to a number of individuals, choose gifts according to rank. This way you can clearly communicate your understanding and acknowledgement of the hierarchy in Japanese business.
High in Uncertainty Avoidance, the Japanese traditionally place high emphasis on symbolism and ritual. It is not the gift that matters, but the manner in which it is given. Be sure that you always wrap the gift you will be presenting; the paper you select is very important. Modest, solid-colored wrapping paper is the best choice. You should not use the color white, as it symbolizes death. Use red for special occasions such as a birthday or a wedding; in general, however, try to avoid very bright colors or bows.
Present the gift using both of your hands and when receiving be sure to do the same. This will symbolize your appreciation for the item and, most importantly, your respect for the person giving it. In general, gifts are not opened in front of the person giving them. This is done to avoid embarrassment in case the gift is unsatisfactory or too lavish. If you are to open a gift in front of the host, be careful not to rip the wrapping paper. Remove it with caution instead, to show respect to the person who wrapped it. The key is to be thankful yet respectful and conservative. Do not hug your host, as an open display of affection is inappropriate. You may bow as a thank-you.