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Etiquette in Japan

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Apr 13th, 2017, 06:16 AM
  #1
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Etiquette in Japan

We are going to Japan next month and I have an etiquette question regarding tours. We have several tours planned.One is a paid tour and several others are conducted by volunteers. For the volunteer tour guides, we are expected to pay their public transportation expenses, admission fees and the cost of any meals. In addition, we are bringing some small, inexpensive gifts from home (USA).

My question is should we bring some similar gifts to the tour guide who is being paid for his services? Would it be a breach of etiquette to not do so?

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Apr 13th, 2017, 09:32 AM
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I would not bring 'gifts' at all. What are tour guides going to do with tchotchkes from your home?

Besides -- it is my understanding that if you give them a gift, they will feel obligated to give you one.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 10:44 AM
  #3
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I'm not bringing trinkets. All are edible and unique to where I live (Florida) and where my son lives (Alaska). They include chocolate alligators, a collection of different herbal teabags from Alaska and some thinly, sliced smoked salmon also from Alaska.

"Besides -- it is my understanding that if you give them a gift, they will feel obligated to give you one."

Really??? I didn't know that.

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Apr 13th, 2017, 12:04 PM
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Japanese have many, many rules regarding the giving and receiving of gifts, and yes, one deserves another.

You can bring gifts for the volunteers. Wrap them nicely. Say, "it's just something small from my home state" as you give it to them. Leave right after that, so they don't have to scramble to reciprocate.

Only give the tour guides a gift if you feel you have developed a "relationship", and again stress that it is "nothing, really". They will not open the gift in front of you.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 12:07 PM
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And your gifts sound like they're the right balance between token or 'too much'. Just make sure they are wrapped and I'd stick to only one item.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 03:12 PM
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<<"Besides -- it is my understanding that if you give them a gift, they will feel obligated to give you one."

Really??? I didn't know that.>>

Yeah, gift giving in Japan is fraught with societal meanings and etiquette.

And also: DO NOT TIP. Period.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 03:30 PM
  #7
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What great advice from all! We will give the gifts at the very end of the tours and have them wrapped. I will also stress that it is "nothing, really". Many thanks everybody.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 05:04 PM
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When my sons were about to be exchange students in Japan, we attended a whole seminar on gift giving. The teacher told us to have the students bring token gifts for the entire family. When we hosted a student, he brought gifts for us. Therefore, Japanese gift-giving is not necessarily reciprocal. It is simply a token sign of appreciation.

In fact, my older son met up with our exchange student in Tokyo a few years ago, and while they were out, he bought a nice box of candy, and said, "please give this to your wonderful mother."

Therefore, I see nothing wrong with token edible gifts, and no one should be offended.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 05:05 PM
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Clarification: The Japanese exchange student bought the candy in Tokyo, not my son.
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Apr 13th, 2017, 05:51 PM
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But there is a big (huge) difference between a teenager living with a Japanese host family - though etiquette is still important - and the OP's situation.

The OP is asking about gifts for tour guides - these are basically business relationships. It is important to look at the info hawaiiantraveler linked (how to wrap them, what colors to avoid, and to be very discreet)
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Apr 13th, 2017, 05:55 PM
  #12
kja
 
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lcuy has given you excellent advice, IMO, and I agree that your selection of tokens sounds appropriate and thoughtful. Well, the smoked salmon may be a bit extravagant ... ;-)

I'd probably go with either a very small chocolate alligator OR a very small selection of teas, no more than a few teabags.

Enjoy your trip!
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Apr 13th, 2017, 09:48 PM
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That's a great guide, HT!

Please keep in mind the expensive gifts on it (whisky, wine, steaks, etc) are business gifts or gifts for good friends or relatives.
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Apr 15th, 2017, 12:09 AM
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We gave small wrapped gifts to our volunteer guide. Our feeling was that it *was* a reciprocal exchange - she had given us her whole day, as a gift and we wanted to give her something in return. I think I said when I gave it to her at the end of the tour that it was to give thanks for her gift of her whole day, plus the preparation time before that, and also her wonderful company, and her expertise on what we had visited together.
I gifted her some British pickles as I knew that pickles are popular across Japan and very regional, so thought it would be fun for her to try British style ones. To my surprise, she did open in front of me, and seemed delighted.
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Apr 15th, 2017, 12:40 AM
  #15
kja
 
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With all due respect, Kavey, it doesn't matter whether YOU thought it was a reciprocal exchange -- what matters is how the GUIDE saw it, and because the guides do NOT expect a gift, it can still put the guide in an awkward situation. I'm sure you presented your gifts in ways that made your guides feel as comfortable as possible; I'm just not sure that your advice on this particular matter is as spot-on as your advice generally is. Please forgive me if you believe I've spoken out-of-turn.
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Apr 15th, 2017, 03:17 AM
  #16
 
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I'm with Kavey - presenting a volunteer guide with a small wrapped gift from one's homeland is totally within the concept of reciprocity upon which Japanese gift exchange pivots. Edible gifts are especially appropriate as they are consumed and therefore experiential, taking up no valuable space. Not presenting a gift would not be a faux pas by any means. But presenting one would be recognised and appreciated as a sincere token of appreciation.
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Apr 15th, 2017, 06:19 AM
  #17
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Thanks again everyone. Thanks to all of you, I won't embarrass myself or others.

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Apr 17th, 2017, 12:15 AM
  #18
 
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Not out of turn, no.
However, I'm not sure why it could not be considered reciprocal, especially when I said it was a thank you for the gift she had given us of her time and company and planning the whole day.
I don't think it fell into the usual omiyage obligations, but of course, I couldn't read her mind to know for sure what she thought.
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Apr 17th, 2017, 12:30 AM
  #19
kja
 
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@ Kavey: Perhaps I am making too fine a distinction. I don't think you were out of line to offer a small token of appreciation; indeed, I agree that doing so can be appropriate, thoughtful, and gracious. My question was about the assumptions behind doing so. My understanding, which could be wrong, is that the guides often think that the opportunity to engage English-speaking tourists (and so practice speaking English), is in itself, sufficient recompense for serving as a guide. It seems to me that it would be better to avoid thinking about what any of us might consider to be reciprocity, and instead focus on the norms and how to manage them in a way that avoids awkwardness. As I said, I'm sure you were tactful; I just think there is a danger is advising others to think of a gift as part of a reciprocal exchange, when it is ultimately up to the recipient to define what is or is not the basis of reciprocity. One can, I believe, offer a small token without invoking reciprocity norms. Again, JMO, and (of course) I'm open to further education!
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Apr 17th, 2017, 01:07 AM
  #20
mjs
 
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There is basically no need to tip anyone in Japan.
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