Japanese Culture Snippets
Vol. 3 – What is ochūgen and oseibo?

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The half-yearly, seasonal gifts

Both ochūgen and oseibo are gifts given as a sign of gratitude to others whom one feels indebted to throughout the year. Ochūgen is a summer gift and/or greeting sent between early July and mid-August, to show gratitude to others during the first half of the year. Oseibo is an end-of-year gift and/ or greeting sent between late November to mid-December, to show a year’s worth of gratitude along with well-wishes for an ongoing relationship into the future.

Ochūgen and oseibo gifts are typically accompanied by a seasonal greeting addressed to the recipient, and both were traditionally given to ‘superiors’, such as company bosses, landlords, and family doctors. However, in more recent times, public figures such as government workers and school staff are expected to turn down such gifts and offers, to avoid looking like they are accepting favours.

Both ochūgen and oseibo are wrapped with “noshigami ” when presented. Noshigami is a piece of paper used to wrap gifts on ceremonial occasions. A mizuhiki (ornamental ribbon) is either printed or tied in the centre, and either the word ochūgen or oseibo is written on the upper half, and the name of the recipient is written on the bottom half.

Things to consider before buying gifts

The most standard choice of ochūgen and

oseibo is food. Although it is favourable to choose something that fits the recipient’s taste, generally, any consumable item is considered to be OK. However, it is important to consider the recipient’s age, lifestyle, and the relation you have with them, before choosing the gifts.

For example, younger people may prefer trendy yōgashi (Western sweets) and wine, whereas older people may prefer wagashi (Japanese sweets) and tea. It is worth noting that it is not appropriate to send older people food items that are hard to chew or swallow, or is something that would take a considerable amount of time to prepare.

For ochūgen , popular choices of foods include: summer fruits, such as rockmelon, cherries, and grapes; sōmen, a type of thin Japanese noodle made of wheat, typically eaten during the summertime; and jelly, especially with tropical fruits.

For oseibo , popular choices of foods include: cured meats and frozen seafood; assortments of alcohol; and local or regional specialties from the area where you reside.

Almost every department store around ochūgen and oseibo periods will have floors dedicated to stock hundreds and thousands of different gift sets. One convenient aspect of purchasing gift sets at department stores is that they can send these gift sets out for you. Although it was traditionally considered more polite to give the gift in person, posting gift sets is now widely accepted, too.

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