By Miao Zhou
An important Japanese value is giri, which refers to the “social obligation” and duty to act as expected by society (Wood, n.d). According to the Japanese Cultural Orientation (2011), children often feel “filial piety” which means to show kindness and respect to their parents and to people outside the home in order to emphasize the worthiness of their parents and ancestors. The Japanese are essentially loyal to their immediate family only. They truly believe in reciprocity as they keep a mental record of the values of gifts being given to them and when there is a special occasion the gift will be returned (Wood, n.d).
Social hierarchy is present and individuals are aware of their social status and position within their family, at school and at work (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011). Wood (n.d) explains that strong mutual support and trust is shown in the work place. Corporations provide grants to individuals who have pleaded for it or to those who demonstrated hard work (Wood, n.d). However, when a request is made and accomplished, the individual must return the favour later on (Wood, n.d). It is rare for Japanese corporations to fire their employees since they respect each other and believe their employees will return the favour (Wood, n.d).
Although gift-giving is unwritten, oftentimes it is necessary and can be seen as a ritual. In December, the Japanese celebrate “o-seibo”, which simply means the end of the year where they congratulate each other for enduring another year and to wish each other a happy new year (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011). During this celebration, they give gifts to families and employers in order to show appreciation for their help and kindness. A similar celebration happens in July called “o-chugen” where gifts are given in honour of one’s ancestors (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011). Generally, “o-seibo” and “o-chugen” gifts may include food or daily necessities such as fruit baskets or other sweets that are packaged nicely and overly priced (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011). Apparently, the gift wrapping is viewed just as important as the gift itself. Large gifts are usually wrapped in a cloth called “furoshiki” and the cloth can range from simple (cheap) fabric to expensive silk (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011). The gift also includes meaningful words and phrases to show gratitude. However, certain items should not be given due to its symbolic meaning. Footwear, watches, and writing utensils should be avoided since it symbolizes harm and bad luck (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011). Some flowers such as lilies, camellias, lotus blossoms and any white flowers in general should not be given since it symbolizes death and funerals (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011). Also, plotted plants are believed to trigger sickness therefore they should be avoided as well (Japanese Cultural Orientation, 2011).
The Japanese sincerely value politeness and gratitude. Overall, they respect each other and give gifts to families and employers on special occasions. However, it is rare for the Japanese to donate to organizations and to people they do not know since when they give, they expect something in return.
Japanese Cultural Orientation. (2011). Technology Integration Division, Defense Language
Institute Foreign Language Center. Retrieved from http://fieldsupport.dliflc.edu/products/japanese/co_ja/japanese.pdf
Wood, M. D., (n.d) “A Brief Introduction to Japanese Society,” Rutgers University, Department
of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://crab.rutgers.edu/~deppen/Japan.htm