Mid-Year Gifts (Ochugen) for Japanese Clients, Yes or No?
In Japan, お中元 = ochugen is a mid-year gift given to those who have shown you consideration or support, customarily given to parents, relatives, coworkers, bosses, and customers.
However, recent national surveys show a downward trend in this tradition. In September 2020, MyVoiceCom Co., Ltd. conducted a survey that garnered 10,064 responses on the theme of mid-year gifts. Survey results showed less than 40 percent of respondents had given a mid-year gift last year.
In fact, some companies now have rules in place banning the giving or receiving of mid-year gifts, likely aimed at making business interactions and relationships less complex.
According to Japan Post’s article on the topic, other reasons for regulating ochugen have to do with protecting personal information, preventing corruption, and increasing internal control of companies.
The landscape of mid-year gift-giving has begun to shift. Yet, it’s still important to know the general customs so you can understand when it would be appropriate to engage in mid-year gift-giving and what to do if you are the recipient of a mid-year gift.
What is ochugen? Here are the basics.
Ochugen is a mid-year gift sent to relatives and close friends, but also occasionally to business partners and clients. The dates to send the gift vary slightly, depending on the regional location of the recipient.
Kanto, Tohoku: Between July 1 to 15
Hokuriku: Between July 1 to August 15 (varies depending on region)
Hokkaido, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu: Between July 15 to August 15
Okinawa: Must arrive before the Obon festival
Note: Some companies begin sending ochugen from mid-June.
Who should you send the mid-year gift to?
For the most part, the mid-year gift is given to those who you are close to and who you wish to thank for their care and concern.
According to MyVoiceCom’s survey, respondents sent mid-year gifts to the following:
Spouse’s parents: 19.0%
Other relatives 41.1%
Friends, acquaintances 23.7%
Someone who helped you in the past 14.4%
A work customer/client 9.9%
A work superior/boss 6.0%
Work colleagues or juniors 1.5%
The largest groups who received mid-year gifts were close family ties. Combined, work relationships accounted for only 17.4% of mid-year gift recipients.
Should you send a mid-year gift to a client or customer?
Since most Japanese reserve ochugen for close friends and relatives, how do Japanese determine when to send a mid-year gift to a business associate or client?
Here are the reasons selected for gift-giving, based on the 2020 survey:
To show an expression of gratitude 47%
To give greetings to someone you have been out of touch with 30.4%
To make the other person happy 26.5%
To show your intentions for a continued good relationship 22.9%
Because the other person sends you mid-year gifts 22.3%
Because it’s a custom 21.7%
Because it’s someone you send a gift to every year 19.4%
To make human relationships smoother 16.4%
Ochugen can be an opportunity to appreciate clients or customers whose business you depend on; sending a mid-year gift is a pleasant way of appreciating their business.
Also, if there is a client you haven’t contacted in a while, sending a mid-year gift can be used as a means to re-establish contact.
But one important thing to note, an increasing number of companies do not accept mid-year gifts. It could be that the company you are thinking of sending a gift to has guidelines against ochugen. Therefore, first determine what the company’s stance is on mid-year gifts before proceeding.
How much to spend and what to send?
If you have decided to send a gift and your client’s company has no policy against mid-year gifts, here’s what to know next.
According to Officegift.jp, a gift-giving service for businesses, the correct amount to spend for sending mid-year gifts to a client’s company and/or business associates is within the ¥5,000 to ¥10,000 range.
This price ensures that the gift is one of thoughtfulness and will not place the other company in an indebted position.
Officegift.jp notes that the type of gift given should be one that the whole company or department can enjoy together. For example, any of the following are popular mid-year gifts:
A boxed assortment of Western cookies or sweets
A boxed assortment of Japanese confections or snacks
Cans of coffee and juice
A boxed assortment of fruit jellies
When choosing an item, an essential point is making sure the box contains individually wrapped items, making it easy to share within the office.
Also, pay attention to the number of items within the gift. Ten individually wrapped cookies can be split between a company or department of ten employees. But that same number will bring consternation if given to a company or department with 15 employees.
If you wish to give a mid-year gift to a boss or an individual, the acceptable amount to spend is between ¥3,000 to ¥5,000. Recommended items include beer, ham, sausages, a box of soumen (dry noodles), etc.
Ochuugen-oseibo.com, a site specializing in seasonal gifts, notes that many businesses use Japan’s gift-giving seasons as an excuse to greet business partners in person, twice a year. In such cases, in-person gifts can be within the ¥1,000 to ¥1,500 range.
How to send a midyear gift?
Many large department stores provide mid-year gift catalogs and will take care of delivering the mid-year gift at the time appointed to the recipients of your choice.
The majority of online stores in Japan also offer ochugen gift wrapping (noshi) at checkout, simplifying the process and ensuring your gift follows established gift-giving etiquette.
If there is a specific store you wish to purchase a mid-year gift from, but they do not offer ochugen gift wrapping at checkout, you will need to wrap and address it yourself or ask someone to assist you with this.
What to do when you receive a mid-year gift?
If you have received ochugen, common courtesy is to send a thank-you note within a week of receiving the gift.
A typical format of what to cover in a thank-you letter includes the following structure:
Seasonal greetings, mentioning the weather
Thankfulness for the gift
Specific compliments regarding the gift received
If applicable, include reactions from others as well
Words that express hope for continued good relations
Well wishes for good health and well-being
The following are examples of letters from Officegift.jp that can be used as-is to thank clients or business partners for a mid-year gift.
So, should you send a gift this year to your Japanese clients? Yes or no?
Surveys show a downward trend in mid-year gift-giving in Japan. Furthermore, gift-giving to clients or business partners is only a small percentage of the recipients of ochugen.
However, if you wish to make an impression on a Japanese client or aim to re-establish a connection with a business partner or associate, the ochugen season can be an opportune moment for doing so.
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