Five Japanese customs even some Japanese people think are a pain

By Casey Baseel

One of the trickier aspects of adapting to life in Japan is getting the hang of the numerous seasonal customs. While your acquaintances aren’t likely to get that bent out of shape if you miss a day or two, completely adhering to proper etiquette involves managing a year-round schedule of sending gifts and written salutations to friends, family, and business associates.

The sentiment is definitely admirable, but don’t Japanese people don’t find this all to be a huge hassle? Actually, it turns out some of them do, as shown in a poll of the top five seasonal traditions people in Japan would like to do away with.

Much as the wives in many American families shoulder the bulk of Christmas card writing responsibilities, the task of fulfilling these seasonal obligations often falls to Japanese women. Internet portal My Navi Woman recently asked 441 female users which traditions are no longer necessary in Japanese society (multiple selections were allowed).

5. Grandchildren’s Day – 24.5%

Some 24.5% of respondents said they’d like to nip a problem in the bud by doing away with Grandchildren’s Day, which is celebrated on the third Sunday in October. Grandchildren’s Day is a recent invention, first being observed in 1999.

This isn’t a sign of growing resentment towards children or a weakening of the familial bonds between generations, though. It’s just that Japan already has multiple special days for kids. There’s Hinamatsuri/Girl’s Day on March 3, when families display lavish sets of dolls, and the Shichi-Go-San festivities in on November 15th for children who have turned seven, five, or three during the year. And of course there’s also the holiday explicitly known as Children’s Day on May 5, which is marked with families and towns flying colorful carp streamers for their little ones.

Some people think yet another day for tikes is overkill, and in fact Grandchildren’s Day hasn’t caught on like the above holidays. “My kids’ grandparents haven’t ever really done anything special for them on Grandchildren’s Day,” remarked one 25-year-old survey respondent.

4. Summer Greeting Cards – 25.4%

Japan’s summers get blistering hot and mercilessly muggy. Dehydration and heat exhaustion pose serious threats, so much so that Japan has a tradition known as "shochumimai," literally “inquiring about the sick during the heat.”

There really isn’t that much involved in the practice, as even the message written on the card typically follows a concise, pre-set Japanese phrase along the lines of, “I am writing to inquire as to how you are holding up during the summer heat.”

Still, with our modern lifestyles meaning less time working the fields under a blazing sun and more time indoors with the air conditioner blowing and a cold drink from the fridge, an increasing number of people don’t see the point in sending these cards. “I’ve never sent one, since I really don’t see what the purpose is,” wrote one confused 25-year-old respondent.

3. New Year’s Cards – 28.6%

Compared to the West, the atmospheres of Christmas and New Year’s get switched in Japan, with the former for parties with friends and fancy dates for couples, and the latter reserved for a quiet time at home with family. This even extends to sending cards called "nengajo," which post offices deliver on Jan 1.

"Nengajo" are pretty similar to Christmas cards, except that instead of being enclosed in an envelope, the message and picture are printed directly onto a postcard. The imagery is different too, of course, with the Chinese zodiac animal for the upcoming year used.

In years past, handwriting "nengajo" was an arduous process, but in recent years software packages make selecting a border, pasting in a photograph of the family, and automatically inserting mailing addresses a snap.

Many young people have taken that technological advancement one step further, though, and now forego physical paper cards entirely by emailing digital "nengajo" instead. Others are irritated by the obligation to send New Year’s cards to their coworkers, especially given how short Japanese vacation periods are. “I’ll be back at work and see everybody just three or four days after the new year starts,” grumbled one respondent, “so it’s a waste of money sending cards to them all.” Fair point.

2. End of the Year Gifts – 30.2%

The pricier compliment to "nengajo" is "oseibo," an end of the year gift. Japanese culture has long held that not causing trouble for others is a virtue. Inevitably, though, during the course of an entire year, all of us run into situations where someone lends us a hand. In those situations, traditional etiquette holds that a gift should be sent at the end of the year, as a token of the gives gratitude, plus a sort of “thank you in advance” for the year to come.

Given the small size of Japanese homes, it’s commonly held that the best gifts are things that can be used up. While this belief commonly manifests itself in food "oseibo," in December you’ll also find stores selling things like tastefully packaged gift sets of things like laundry detergent.

Of course, if someone is kind enough to send you an "oseibo," it also means an outlay of time and money on their part, so Japanese manners require that you send an "oseibo" of your own in return. Some people find this zero-sum dance tiring and ultimately pointless, such as the respondent who remarked, “Since we’re just giving each other gifts that cancel each other out, I don’t think we need to do this anymore.”

1. Mid-Year Gifts – 32%

Just like New Year’s Cards and "oseibo," Japan’s summer greetings also have an associated gift, the "ochugen." The impetus here is exactly the same as with "oseibo." In the six months since you sent that person a New Year’s gift, they’ve probably once again gone out of their way to help you in some way, whether great or small. As such, it’s only proper that you send them another box of fruit, or something, to express your appreciation.

As "ochugen" are essentially just "oseibo" at a different time, they generated similar complaints. “I think we should just send gifts when we want to, instead of having to do it every year,” proposed one respondent.

She’s got a point, and besides, summer is already such a busy time in Japan. It’s one of the few times workers can expect a vacation, schools have their longest break of the year, there are fireworks festivals almost every weekend, and for a few glorious weeks there’s that perfect beach-going sweet spot after the rainy season and before jellyfish season. With so many other draws on our time, we’re almost entirely onboard with the idea of doing away with giving mid-year gifts, even if we can still see one potentially huge upside to continuing the practice.

Source: Niconico News

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japan’s coolest New Year 2014 greeting cards -- 7 Reasons New Years Is The Best Time To Experience Japan -- How to prepare for a Japanese New Year

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The pricier compliment to “nengajo” is “oseibo,” an end of the year gift.

Well, it's nice to be told you look pretty, even if it costs more and just looks like a bottle of oil, ham, or a coffee set.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I refuse all wedding invitations and had my own wedding at almost zero expense in America with my family.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Reckless, I agree with you. I have a strong feeling I was invited to a few weddings not because I was a friend but just to help pay for them. We can flush White Day too. Pain in the rear. Valentine's Day is enough.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Ochugen and Oseibo are crass and superficial, price-gouged tat. People can't afford it.

Let them decide whether to spend their hard-earned cash, not the corporatocracy.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Attanded a wedding ceremony--> paid 10,000 yen(Cash Gift) and won a Nabe Pot that worth 20,000yen (BINGO game) which was held at the end of the ceremony.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Grand children's Day??

Literally never heard of it. And neither have my in-laws, obviously.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Never heard of Grandchildren's Day, but if Mr cleo had his way, every day would be Grandchildren's Day, he's besotted with ours. :-)

While I don't bother with the summer o-mimai, I do like sending and receiving Christmas cards and nengajo. It's all part of the seasonal 'rush' (as in high, not busy - the seasonal busy is making all the seasonal essentials that they don't sell here, like mince pies, sausage rolls, proper Christmas cake and spiced biscuits - all of which also make great gifts that knock the spots off detergent, no matter how tastefully packaged).

I stopped doing oseibo (never did the summer ochugen) when I started being on the receiving end and realised that, while the thought is appreciated, the actual gift tends not to be all that exciting. Now I give Christmas and birthday gifts (not detergent) only to close friends and family, and if I feel the need to show my appreciation to someone for a special kindness, I do it then, instead of waiting for the oseibo season.

Pity the poor Happy Couples whose friends begrudge them a day and a gift! If you don't want to go to their wedding then don't go! Don't shove the bare minimum into an envelope then sit there with a long face moping and counting your pennies all through the speeches.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I detest having to do Xmas cards and New Year's cards to family and friends I have regular contact with. Save the trees. I have refused to do the seasonal presents - can shops make it any more obvious it is a money grab.

I hate the amount you are expected to give at weddings - and hated sitting down after the wedding and writing down who gave us how much so we know what we have to give them in the future. Greatly dislike that you get a gift for attending a wedding. I have more useless towel sets and dishes I will never ever use. Ever been to a "recycle" shop here? Its were unwanted wedding presents go to die.

New house? Cash. New baby? Cash. Otoshidama for their kids? Cash. I greatly dislike it as it is not done out of the kindness of hearts but out of obligation. What I really, really detest is the presents people HAVE to give you back - lord knows how many times I have told new parents NOT to give us a present after we've given money but sure enough, a few weeks later, some overpriced gift arrives in the mail. As if they are stressed out enough with a new baby in the house. Created busy work and sales. I don't mind people bringing gifts to a housewarming if they want but the obligation thing here drives me nuts.

My family is great with regards to presents. We all have good jobs and good pay and don't go without. Therefore, we don't exchage presents anymore. A HUGE lifesaver for us all. Now if only I could convince others that we don't need to buy useless presents that none of us need for each other.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Mmm, oseibo... Buying overpriced beer (9-pack anyone!!) and washing powder to keep up appearances and shallow relations. The wonderois thing is that so many idiots still buy these things and thereby keepmthese horribly old-fashioned traditions alive when they should refuse to buy things just because the "have to".

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Reckless...shag in the side!?! Priceless

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"Go ni ireba, go ni shitagae." (When in Rome, do as the Romans.) One story though. I actually had my boss ask me one time how much I intended to give at a student's wedding ! I guess he was afraid to "lose face" if his worker had given more than he did ! (about 30 years ago)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I work at a private high school and most of my co-workers don't bother carding co-workers. I tried sending cards a couple of years and got responses. But, then 1 year I didn't send cards and no one bothered writing me. That told me that it was really unnecessary...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All these traditions are probably created by the japanese merchant class eons ago to make money and the average joe or taro just went along with it. Now it is out of control and most folks, my wife and her family too, are too embarassed to admit these so called traditions are nonsense and blindly follow the rest of the herd to the gift section at the department stores.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When it comes to Oseibo (and what was the other one, Ochugen?), I fail to understand why someone would want to give someone else 8 bottles of soya sauce, or 6 large bottles of vegetable oil. I mean, come on, by the time I've finished one bottle of oil, the rest would be rancid already. Besides, if you buy the bottles individually, it would probably cost half the price. The other half is for the damn box!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Still, with our modern lifestyles meaning less time working the fields under a blazing sun and more time indoors with the air conditioner blowing and a cold drink from the fridge, an increasing number of people don’t see the point in sending these cards.

I doubt that those "working the fields under a blazing sun" had the means to send cards anyway! Surely only a pursuit of the aristocracy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Never heard of Grandchildren’s Day either. Hope I live to see grandkids though, I'd be a happy participant.

As for New Year's Day, I make my own cards using software. Something to look forward to every year.

Marriages I've been to about four, two here and two back home. Don't remember paying huge amounts for any of them.

All these traditions are probably created by the japanese merchant class eons ago to make money and the average joe or taro just went along with it. Now it is out of control and most folks, my wife and her family too, are too embarassed to admit these so called traditions are nonsense and blindly follow the rest of the herd to the gift section at the department stores.

Not at all like us Western people who buy chocolate Easter eggs which apparently symbolizes Jesus dying on a cross and coming back to life again? Because we are so much smarter, right?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Grand Children;s Day ,,,, ??? Is it Japanese custom now?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How about the custom of individually wrapping everything, wrapping everything regardless if fragile or not in bubble wrap, the butting newspaper around it, wrapping nice wrapping paper around, and then putting the product into a paper bag, then a plastic bag. An over-exaggeration but for all of the steps they go through to "be green" and follow the 4 Rs you'd think there would be some changes in those customs. Heck, an international environmental treaty was signed right here in Japan - Kyoto Protocol. Do you Kyoto? Not so much.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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