Okaeshi – The Japanese Custom of Giving Return Gifts

One of the customs that I got surprised and confused about is the practice of giving return gifts or Okaeshi. Kaeshimasu is the Japanese word that means 'to give back' or 'return'. Japanese love giving gifts during many occasions and it is a part of their culture. New Year, birthdays, weddings, graduation, school entry, child birth, et al. are some of the most delighted occasions in which monetary gifts are presented. While visiting someone at hospital or those who met with unexpected tragedy, and even during mourning, people give some gifts either as money or other items. Most of such gifts, once accepted, should be returned with some other items called Okaeshi. It is a moral practice existing in Japanese society which is believed to strengthen the relationship between the individuals.

Weddings and Childbirth

Photo by Mizuho on Pakutaso.

During weddings, it is a custom in Japan to give an amount as gift to the newlyweds. It should be done by relatives and friends. This amount also is based upon the relationship with the bride or groom. The newly wed couples have to return some gift items upon receiving their gifts. 

Similarly, Japanese give monetary gifts or other gift items when a baby is born to any of the friends or relatives. Gifts are given to expectant mothers also. Usually the gift might be some baby goods like towels, soaps, dress items, toys etc. The parents should give a return gift. It should be done after only a few days.


Photo by ぱくたそ運営事務局 on Pakutaso.

During funerals also, a money giving tradition exists in Japanese society. This amount also depends upon the relationship with the person or the family. After some days the family members are responsible to send some return gift to those people from which they accept the amount. 

Disease and Disasters

There is a practice of gifting something while visiting someone who is hospitalized. It might be usually money, some fruits or other eatables. Also this gift is selected according to the person. If the hospitalized person loves reading books, or enjoying music, the gift might be a book or CD or similar items. Once the person recovers and leaves hospital, a return gift will be given back. Visiting someone who has met with some unexpected tragedies like loss of house in earthquakes, relatives or friends will give an amount with the purpose of financially helping them to recover from the situation. Once they are relieved from it, they must give some Okaeshi as a thanksgiving to those who helped in trouble.

Selecting Okaeshi

The return gift or Okaeshi should be selected carefully. It depends upon the value of the gift one received. The return gift should cost half the amount of the received item or money. Once a gift is received, the cost of it should be assumed or confirmed before selecting an appropriate Okaeshi. Usually, the Okaeshi might be sweets, towels, soap or laundry items, ceramic wares, kitchen wares, or similar items. There are many companies in Japan that specialize in selecting items like this for this purpose. People love receiving Okaeshi as things that are very useful for home than as any fancy items.

Wrapping the Gifts

Money gifts are always enclosed in special envelopes. Based on the occasions, the color and the type of envelope differ. The name of the person who is gifting the amount will be written over it. Other gift items must be packed well before handing them over.

Similarly the Okaeshi gifts should also be packed with the name of the person who is returning it written over it. Ribbons and flowers are sometimes used to decorate the gift to make it appear beautiful. All the gift shops of Japan care about helping you to make the gift appear perfect based on its relevance. They will help wrapping and writing your name in appropriate manner.

A Simple Okaeshi in Daily Life

The practice of Okaeshi doesn’t end with this. If we are giving some food items in our dish to someone, most of the Japanese people care about enclosing something inside it once they return our dish. 

Strange, But It Builds A Bond

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

Even though the practice of giving such return gifts make foreigners feel strange, it is part of their custom which they believe is to improve the human relationship. Something given as gift or in return, regardless of the cost is supposed to make people happier and attached to the person who gave it.

READ MORE : More Shocking and Unusual Facts About Gifts in Japan

Popular Posts

Related Posts