Congratulations! You have been invited to an event hosted by a Japanese friend or co-worker. Being invited is rather special. Unlike Americans who tend to say, “Let’s get together” with people but understand it tends to be an open statement rather than a specific invitation, Japanese people are rather selective when they offer an invitation to their home or outing together. If you are invited to a Japanese home, it means you have reached a level of friendship that they feel comfortable with you entering their personal residence/space and meeting their family (if they are married).
Tips On What to Buy and Bring
If you have ever wondered what to bring to someone’s home, it is really simple and easy if you follow a few simple steps. For any invitation to a home, it is considered polite to bring something for the host, a general food item to share with everyone.
Here are some great tips to make this super fun and convenient for you.
Gifts for the Host
It is considered polite to bring something small to give to the host. If you are new to Japan or visiting that particular person or residence for the first time, you can bring something from your home country as a souvenir. You can buy small gifts like food items for the family to enjoy/share.
The item doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to show meaning that you thought of the person/family and wanted to share something with them.
Department stores have several food vendors on the ground floor that are famous for quality and variety. It is a convenient place to pick something up.
Seasonal sweets (i.e. mizu-yokan is only for summer)
Specialty fruits ringo (apples), ichi-go (strawberries), etc.)
Chocolate gift box
An item that you know the person likes
Buying a flower bouquet is believed to be a special gift for women, if you are invited by a female co-worker, it will be courteous to buy a flower bouquet.
When carrying flowers in Japan, you face the flowers downward. The stems will be held at the top. This is the opposite for Western countries, so it might seem a bit strange. However, it is considered rude to carry or present flowers facing up.
Food to Share
It is customary in Japan to carry a food item when invited to a household. You never go to a Japanese residence without something to share during the meal. You should buy something large enough or something that has enough pieces to share with everyone.Therefore, it is good to ask ahead how many people will be present at the dinner/event in order not to run short of what you bring.
Dessert items are typically easy and convenient to pick up. If you know the person’s taste, you can pick up specific things that they or the family like to eat. If you are going for the first time, here are some good tips to try:
Bring an assortment of different pastries/cakes.
People like different flavors. This would be a great option to serve as a dessert after the meal.
Kastera – a sponge cake
Manju – steamed cake with sweet red bean filling
Dango – Japanese dumpling made from sweet mochi
Yokan – bean jelly (comes in different flavors)
Dorayaki – sweet cake with sweet bean paste inside
Sembe – rice cracker
Specialty food or cookie gift sets at a department store
If you know the host drinks alcohol, a good bottle of wine or regional o-sake is a great option to bring. Japanese people tend to drink alcohol during a meal. So, check out some good liquor stores and ask for a recommendation.
If you have received a gift from a Japanese person, it is polite to return the favor by buying something small for them. You should do that in a timely manner after you have received the gift. It may sound odd to be exchanging gifts so often, but it is considered to be polite.
If someone has made food for you, you should return the original dish/plate to the owner with some small food items in it. Never return a person’s dish/plate without giving them something in return. Cookies, snacks, special seasonal fruit, desserts, and food that you know that person(s) like.
If you are traveling within Japan or to/from another country, it is considered polite to buy and bring back something for your co-workers, office staff, host family, friends, etc. When I traveled to specific regions or during vacations, I made sure to make a list and buy some small items that I could bring in my luggage or ship via takkyubin. Food that is special to the region you are visiting is a standard option. You can find lots of items to buy.
I hope this makes your shopping easy and fun! Enjoy your time with your friends or co-workers! Until next time, have a great day!
Peggy / United States