A Star Wars stormtrooper giving flowers to a lady stormtrooper

Photo:Robert McGoldrick

The Rules of Gift Giving in Japan

Japanese people love to give gifts to their sibling or closest friends. Maybe this happened to you: you want to give a present for your Japanese friend’s birthday, but feel confused about what to give? Unfortunately, in Japan, there are some things that Japanese people will believe are impolite gifts. It sounds interesting right? So, let’s learn more about those things, and the reason why they cannot be given as a gift.

The Numbers 4 and 9

Number 49
Photo by Steve Bowbrick on Flickr

At first, all of things displaying the number 4 and 9 should be prohibited to give it as a gift. The number 4 in Japanese is read as shi, and there is the other word in Japanese, which is read as shi too, but with a different meaning. That other word of shi means death. If you know about kanji, the word shi is from 死, which means death.

The other number that should be avoid is number 9. The number 9 in Japanese is read as ku, and there is the same word 苦 (read as ku), which means suffering.

That is why you should avoid these numbers, when you want to give a gift to Japanese people. Obviously, gifts should bring good luck, not bad luck such as suffering and death.


Man holding a comb in his mouth
Photo by Jon Åslund on Flickr

The next thing is comb! In Japan, it is really impolite if you give a comb as a gift to your Japanese friends. Why? Comb in Japanese is read as “kushi”. As I told you before that, “ku” means suffering and “shi” means death, giving a comb as a gift means “suffering and death”. Because of that reason, you should not give a comb as a gift to Japanese people.

Clock, Scissors and Knives

Photo by Marco Verch on Flickr, licensed CC BY 2.0

Japanese people believed that giving a clock as a gift means the symbol of time running out, while giving scissors or knives means cutting the relationship between them. So, please avoid giving those things to Japanese people as gifts.

The Rules About Flowers

Close-up of white camelia

Seeing your friend in hospital, and feeling confused what kind of flowers to bring for him/her? In Japan, it is impolite to give lotus blossoms, camellias, and lilies when you go to see your friend in hospital. Unfortunately, all kinds of white flowers are not acceptable to bring as a gift. It is because white flowers are associated with funerals. You should also avoid potted plants. A potted plant mean encourage the sickness when you bring it to see your friend in hospital.

Photo by Fe Ilya on Flickr

Those are the things you should avoid to buy as gifts to Japanese people. From this kind of information, I can know that there are so many different cultural differences depending of on each country, and as foreigners, we should learn about those cultures and not make an impolite attitude for the people of those countries. Giving a gift is a good attitude, but if you give a wrong gift, it can be rude. Be careful guys!

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