A time for goodbyes… and gifts!

Our time in Japan has come to an end. [insert dramatic silence]

Yes, that’s right. After only one short year, it’s back to Belgium for us. Our pleads to Toyota to extend our stay have been to no avail. The project is finished and new projects await in Toyota Motor Europe. Resistance is futile.

That means it is time to say our goodbyes. And goodbyes in Japan involve gifts. Lots of gifts. In fact you are supposed to give a gift to anyone you have some sort of relationship with, or people you are indebted to. And of course you will be showered with goodbye gifts yourself.

While one might consider this gift giving obligation a nuisance, I for one found it to be heartwarming. The Japanese are incredibly generous when it comes to giving gifts. Some of the gifts I have received are incredibly sweet, precious and beautiful. And as for the gifts I am handing out myself – to say it with a cliché for lack of better words – a goodbye gift can only begin to express my gratitude for all the generosity and hospitality I have received from so many people throughout the year.

So what might be an appropriate gift in Japan, you ask? Of course a personal gift is always good. I found that for example a photo album of your time together, with illustrations and some personal notes, usually makes people very happy. But if you can’t think of anything personal to give, food or drinks are always a safe bet. Especially a box of Japanese sweets. And this brings me to our topic for today: the Japanese sweets shop.

Japanese sweets shop
Japanese sweets shop

The Japanese have their very own sweets culture, that has nothing to do with Western sweets. The sweets are sold in department stores or special shops, which are beautifully decorated. There is often a fountain or a small pond inside the shop.

Pond inside the sweets shop
Pond inside a sweets shop

The selection of available sweets depends on the seasons. The Japanese love to celebrate the seasons! In summertime, jellies are very popular. A popular ingredient in all seasons is ‘anko’ or sweet read bean paste. By western standards this is by no means considered sweet, but the Japanese love it.

Red bean paste anko
Red bean paste or ‘anko’
Japanese sweets anko
Winter selection of Japanese sweets
Box of jellies
Box of jellies, typical for summer
Jelly and senbei
A display with giftboxes of jelly and senbei (shrimp and rice crackers)

Whenever in doubt what to give someone, remember you can never go wrong with a box of Japanese sweets, whether it is a goodbye gift or you are visiting someone’s home for the first time.

If you want to know more about the Japanese gift culture, check out the Japan Guide (click here) for some more tips on how and when to give gifts in Japan.


15 thoughts on “A time for goodbyes… and gifts!

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    1. I think it depends on what kind of store it is. Probably the more exclusive the store is, the more difficult it will be to take pictures. In any case it is always best to ask if it’s ok to take a picture. If you ask politely, and perhaps explain why you find the store interesting, I think they will give you permission in most cases.

  1. Tof idee van die Japanners! Heb je ook aan cadeautjes voor het thuisfront gedacht?! Welkom terug in België!

  2. Sad to know your time in Japan has come to an end. My own one-year stay there ended six years ago, but the memories are so vivid I can close my eyes and almost feel I’m there again. It has been a pleasure to follow your blog as the months have passed. I wish you well as you return to your home country. Repatriating can be an interesting (and sometimes challenging) experience itself – “home” can feel a bit foreign, after time immersed in another place and culture. I remember spending my first days back home in the U.S. feeling overwhelmed by, of all things, the seemingly unending variety of hair color and body sizes of my fellow countrymen. It took some time to readjust to driving on the right side of the road, and to overcome a sense of desolation due to all the open space around my rural U.S. home after living in the tight quarters of a large Japanese city. And of course, change changes us. We don’t return home quite the same person we were when we left. Perhaps you will extend your blog, and relate a bit of your own unique repatriation experience as it unfolds. Good fortune to you, and gambatte! 🙂 ~Ann

    1. Dear Ann,

      Thank you so much for this comment. It was very interesting to read about your experiences and I can totally understand your feelings. In my own experience as well, reverse culture shock can be more difficult than the actual culture shock. But you never know beforehand exactly what aspect of your own culture will suddenly feel awkward.

      I for one miss the Japanese smiles, how calm the people are, their attention to detail. Everything in Belgium suddenly seems so coarse and dirty. I also notice that I’m still expecting to find a konbini on every street corner and I have caught myself bowing and uttering a sumimasen a time or two. And of course I already miss Japanese food!

      I plan to continue with this blog and indeed already have some ideas about expanding it. In any case I am far from done with my Japan stories 🙂 Thank you for your heartfelt comment, your encouragement and your wise words.

      Helena a.k.a. Haruko-chan

  3. I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese gift giving! It’s great to read about it from a “good-bye gifts” perspective. I loved this post, and thanks for adding imagery too 🙂

  4. Het was leuk jullie verslagen te lezen , het heeft mij een kijk (weliswaar door een sleutelgaatje) gegeven op de Japanse cultuur.
    Ik hoop : Mag dit “wittebroodsjaar” voor jullie een start en voortzetting zijn van (en op) een innige en liefdevolle relatie . ik wens je verder Succes in België en een gelukkig en liefdevol leven .

    1. Ik ben blij dat je de blog leuk vond en dat je kennis hebt kunnen maken met de Japanse cultuur. Dat was uiteraard de bedoeling! De Japan verhalen zijn trouwens nog niet gedaan hoor. Er is zoveel te zien en te beleven in Japan dat ik stof heb voor nog een hele hoop blog posts.

    1. I hear you, matcha is great. Although for me, matcha ice cream was a bit of an acquired taste. I remember the first time I had matcha ice cream at Baskin and Robbins in Japan. It was not really a success. But afterwards when I tried homemade matcha ice cream in a small restaurant, I became a fan.

      1. I miss soft serve matcha ice cream cones.. Also kuro goma ice cream. And the fun ice cream treats from the conbini freezer case. Mmmmm…. 🙂

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