When Japanese people travel both within Japan and around the world, they love to shop. Upon seeing an attractive souvenir shop, they stop immediately to have a glance. It’s a familiar sight to see many Japanese people carrying multiple shopping bags in both hands or stuffed backpacks with souvenirs!
Why do they feel the need to buy so many souvenirs at once? Wouldn’t one or two be enough for their family? The reason is that most Japanese people shop for souvenirs not only for themselves, but also for friends, family and people in their peer group. They want to share their joy with other communities they feel connected to.
Why is sharing with others so important for Japanese people? Let’s find out in this article.
It Brings People Together
Here in Japan, sharing souvenirs with someone is a good chance to get to know each other. Having small talk or exchanging greetings is a common and friendly way to get closer to people, but sometimes, souvenirs can help bring people together.
This doesn’t mean that people are trying to lure in their friends! Sharing souvenirs genuinely makes others feel that the giver has a warm heart and a thoughtful mind, and that they want to share the experience and memories of their trips together. If someone gave you souvenirs such as food or novel items from a place you’ve never been, wouldn’t you also feel curious and appreciative? Perhaps your worldview will widen, and you may also feel a desire to visit the same place in the future, all from a thoughtful little souvenir.
When Japanese people receive souvenirs from other people, they tend to have conversations similar to the following:
Japanese friend A:
Japanese friend B:
A: “I went to Hokkaido this winter and I brought you my favorite chocolate cookies. I hope you like them!”
B: “Thank you so much! How was Hokkaido?”
A: “The weather was nice, and my family went to Niseko for ski camping. Let me show you the pictures I took.”
B: “Oh, let me see!”
After this, A shares photos with B, and they continue chatting about Hokkaido for quite a while. From this conversation initiated by a little souvenir, they took the chance to get to know each other better and become closer.
Who are They Shopping For?
Japanese people usually buy souvenirs for the following people:
・Colleagues at work
・Parents and relatives
Generally speaking, Japanese people tend to buy souvenirs for those who are always helping them out in daily life. The above list of people will usually have a direct impact on their lives, so sending a gift as a display of thankfulness is common!
Average Price for Souvenirs
If Japanese people keep buying so many souvenirs at once, it would be endless. Most Japanese people buy souvenirs for others with an average price around 600 yen to 1,000 yen.
They avoid buying expensive souvenirs not only to reduce spending, but also because the recipients of expensive souvenirs would feel too guilty to accept such a gift. Furthermore, they would also become concerned about having to prepare something in return. For instance, if you buy souvenirs for your Japanese friends worth 5,000 yen, they would think that they also need to buy you something back with the equivalent price of around 5,000 yen for a future occasion.
Souvenirs that are neither too cheap nor too expensive make people happy and it doesn’t burden them with the concern of an expensive return. It’s all about balance!
Eat Your Vegetables!
Many Japanese families grow vegetables on their own fields and gardens. Depending on the season, popular crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, green peppers, cabbages, carrots and onions. Parents often send many home-grown vegetables to their children. Overwhelmed by the generosity of their parents, children receive so many vegetables at once that they can’t eat all of it by themselves! As a result, it’s common to try to share fresh vegetables within your peer group. After all, it would be a shame to leave them to waste.
Normally, Japanese people will share fresh vegetables to those who live closer, like neighbors. Vegetables don’t keep long, and people don’t want to waste any vegetables their parents made.
Receiving organic vegetables always makes Japanese people happy. Since vegetables are quite expensive in the supermarkets of Japan, sharing fresh and organic vegetables is a welcomed gift for all.
Do you now see why many Japanese people buy extra souvenirs? They aren’t just shopping for themselves. They consider friends, family, relatives, neighbors and colleagues when making a shopping list, and maybe prepare a few extra in case they meet new people! When Japanese people give their souvenirs to other people, they’re also thinking in their mind as follows:
“This is the souvenir I got from my vacation. I really hope you like it. Thank you for helping me out all the time, and I hope we can continue to build on our good relationship.”
Thoughtful acts of altruistic giving are deeply ingrained into the culture of Japanese people. Sharing brings smiles to others, but also leaves a smile in your heart. So the next time you go souvenir shopping, think of someone else who might appreciate your generosity!