It seems to me that in Japan, giving gifts is extremely important and thus more common than in Europe. The gifts are never very expensive and most often are just some local food speciality or sweets, but people do make a point of giving you something, even if they just went on a quick business trip to Tokyo. I did not grow up like this, so I never have anything for anyone (to be fair, I don’t go on business trips or vacation either), and I’m greatly embarrassed when people give me something out of the blue.
As I said, those gifts don’t have to be expensive at all, and it’s not a problem either to buy a large box of Tokyo Bananas for example, and then hand them out piecemeal. Probably for this reason, most of the sweets you can buy as souvenirs are individually packed, even if you get a supersized box.
Giving gifts in business is similar. Of course, there are the oseibo year-end presents that can cost ten thousands of yen if it is a long-standing, well established, and for both sides prosperous, relationship. But then there are other gifts given merely as a token of appreciation, at the first meeting for example. Not every meeting needs such gifts, but if you are trying to get off on the right foot and start a long-term relationship, it’s not a bad idea to do that.
As you know, I am now actively approaching shrines in Kyoto for the What’s Up In Kyoto monthly highlights for information and photos. A Japanese friend of mine helps me doing that and she suggested to bring a little something to the PR person of the shrine when we meet. She insisted that it would be best if I could bring something from Austria, something very typical; and because I received a few of them as a Christmas present, we’ve settled upon: Mannerschnitten.
For you foreigners: You really don’t have to understand that. Let’s just say they are very famous in Austria, we all grow up with them, and many of us crave them desperately. For you fellow Austrians: Yes. I know. But: We’ve already given one pack away at Yoshida Shrine last month, and the PR person was very surprised to receive a gift from us and appeared very pleased with the fact that it was a foreign gift to boot.
Of course, that leads to another set of problems: Where in Japan can I buy Mannerschnitten? I have tried the usual shops in Kyoto that are selling imported goods, but nothing. And shipping from Austria is expensive, and even if it were not, I cannot rely on my friends to keep me stocked. However, we have found a solution, and it’s called: Rakuten This is a Japanese online store that sells, apparently, everything. Just go to the bottom of the page I linked to, hover over the links and you will find: cars, fashion goods, liquor, sports, flowers, garden… and Mannerschnitten. I’m so pleased – let’s hope the other PR people I’ll meet will like them as much as the one from Yoshida shrine.