Today, I went shopping. Not for Christmas presents though, not even for myself. I went out to buy Oseibo – Year End Presents. Those are rather obligatory and formal things, mostly exchanged between companies, or given to bosses or teachers, for example. Most often, such Oseibo are food items or sweets, or alcohol or liquor.

The above is all I knew about these presents when I decided that I needed to buy one for my accountant. And because in this case, it is technically a business-to-business present, which is just another excuse to produce a minefield of possible mistakes, mishaps and other unpleasantries, I did not dare to enter on my own. So, I asked a friend of mine for help.

Since then I have learned that decent Oseibo are bought only at department stores (Takashimaya or Daimaru for example), and that there is a price limit on both ends depending on the intensity of the (business) relationship, with the most common price around 5000 YEN. Oseibo are usually sent to the recipient directly from the store where they are bought, and should arrive somewhere between December 1st and 20th. The shop usually takes care of appropriate wrapping, and there is a standard note attached with the name of the sender on it.

Takashimaya logoArmed with that knowledge and an appropriate amount of money, and with my friend in tow, I arrived at the Takashimaya at around 11 today. At the moment, maybe half of the seventh floor is dedicated to Oseibo, and indeed, there are all sorts of things you can buy. Japanese love food items as gifts in general, and as New Year’s is a time when traditionally no cooking is done in the house, things that can be eaten without further preparation are very popular. There are tins of crabmeat, condiments, fish in all thinkable states of preservation, and packages of Kobe beef and similar meat. You can also buy tea and coffee (Nescafe – really?) and things like cooking oil, preserves, or honey. Also, there are boxes with cans of Japanese and foreign beer (not a good present for winter, according to my friend), and bottles of sake in various sizes. Of course, there are okashi – Japanese sweets – and cookies and chocolates… Slightly odd I found the packages with a full year’s supply of soap, shampoo, and body lotion. If I got a present consisting of 8 bars of soap from an employee, for example, I would seriously wonder whether there is a hidden meaning to all this…

Anyway, after wandering the aisles of Oseibo displays for about half an hour – and freely sampling from the various offerings of tidbits – my friend and I settled on a small box with German ham and sausages (Dallmayr – I thought they only sell coffee) for a decent price. We then had to wait for another half an hour to pay for our present: Because the Takashimaya will deliver the box, they will need at least the recipient’s address. There was a small hiccup when it came to the noshigami – the note attached to the present stating the giver’s name – because my full name is too long to be written there in the usual, vertical manner. We settled on my first name, it should be rather unique anyway.

The gift will be delivered next week, and then I’ll see what happens. It appears that it is common to reciprocate – with a gift that is slightly cheaper – but I am not sure if this applies here as well. I’ll hope for chocolate – and keep you posted.