The art of giving gifts is an important component of Japanese culture. Ochugen (お中元) can be translated as a “midyear present” that you give to those in your life you feel indebted to. Both the season and the presents provided are referred to as O-chugen. As a sign of appreciation, people gift delicacies or everyday objects to their superiors, clients, relatives, and others. Many department stores and other retailers benefit from the season’s increased sales, but it can be stressful for individuals who need to buy a variety of items. We hope you find this guide useful if you are searching for an Ochugen as well.
The history of Ochugen
The term “Chugen” is derived from Taoism. In Taoism, July 15 is a ceremonial day on the lunar calendar. This is also the day of the Buddhist Bon Festival (Ura-bon). O-chugen is a Japanese custom that evolved from a combination of an old Chinese tradition and the o-bon season, when families and relatives assemble to pray for the well-being of their deceased ancestors. Because such presents were intended to be given to ancestors on a tray (o-bon in Japanese), rice, noodles, and other foods were the most common summer gifts exchanged when O-chugen first began in Japan.
Why do people give Ochugen?
Ochugen are meant to show your appreciation for those who you have leaned on throughout the year, as well as for people who are important to you in your life. Ochugen are presented during the height of Japan’s summer as a sign of your good will and hope for one’s health through the hottest period of the year. Ochugen are meant to be a sign of respect for those in your life who may be living a hard life during the hot season. In addition, Ochugen serve as a symbol of your appreciatiion for those important people your life.
When should you give Ochugen?
The timeframe varies depending on the region. Thus, I will explain the characteristics relative to each region below.
In the Kansai region ochugen will typically be given from July 1st to July 15th. After July 16 and until August 8th the present will then be referred to as an Shochumimai or Shochoukagai, which means that this gift is meant as a gesture to wish for one’s health during the hottest peak of Summer.
To coincide with the Obon period, Ochugen are commonly given between July 15th and August 15th. Any gifts given after August 15th will be treated as a Shochumimai, rather than as an ochugen, so it’s important to keep August 15th in mind.
Areas in the Hokuriku region of Japan (including Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, and Fukui prefectures) will adhere to either the Kanto / Tohoku, or Hokkaido timing as listed above. This depends on the region, with the majority of areas following the Kanto / Tohoku timing, with much fewer following the Hokkaido calendar. Because of this discrepancy, it’s important to confirm the customs of your individual area.
Toukai / Kansai / Chugoku / Shikoku
Ochugen in these regions should be sent between July 15th and August 15th. Gifts given from August 16th to around the 10th of September will be treated as Shochumimai. Many people will find a Shochumimai sent in early September to be a little late, so you are better off giving a Shochumimai by August 25th if you cannot give an ochugen by the 15th of August, just to be safe.
Ochugen in Kyushu are commonly given between August 1st and August 15th. This makes the timeframe in which ochugen are exchanged almost an entire month removed from Kanto and Tohoku. Just as with many other areas in Japan, Ochugen are being given earlier and earlier each year. For this reason, it isn’t unusual for people to give ochugen during July, even in Kyushu.
Different from other regions in Japan, ochugen are commonly given by July 15th of Japan’s lunar calendar. When giving an ochugen in Okinawa, you should make sure to check the lunar calendar for the current year to confirm with July 15th is.
What do people give as an Ochugen?
Starting when the temperatures start to rise around the beginning of July department stores across Japan will begin to offer special Ochugen gift options. There are many typical gifts that are given as an Ochugen. Many people choose sweet foods are given to children, while high-quality noodles are fruits may be given to adults. A common gift to give your boss or manager might be beer or sake. The idea is to present a beverage of food item that is typically enjoyed in the summertime. Ideally this something that will help the recipient cool down during the Summer. In addition, commodities and practical everyday things that may be used in one’s everyday life make for a great Ochugen. If you are looking for an Ochugen for someone special, please feel free to check out our gift ideas page here.
How much should you spend on an Ochugen gift?
The amount of money you spend is typically decided according to the relationship you have with the recipient, but JPY3,000 to JPY5,000 (approx. USD27~USD46) is the most common amount. In Japan, spending a large amount of money on an ochugen can cause others to feel overly indebted to you, so it is important to only purchase expensive ochugen for those in your life who you are truly indebted to. That being said, the act of giving is more important than the tag amount of the gift.
Our store also has a selection of gifts by product price, so please check out this link.
Are there are other periods where people often give gifts in Japan?
Just like there is an Ochugen, there is also a year-end gift known as an Oseibo. Ochugen is also sometimes referred to as a summer gift, while an Oseibo is a winter gift. Of course, there are also other periods where gifts are commonly exchanged in Japan such as Valentines Day. On Japanese Valentines Day women give men chocolate, while men return the favor on White Day. In regard to the summer and winter gift-giving tradition, Oseibo is very similar to the tradition of giving Ochugen. Both gifts are meant to symbolize one’s appreciation for the recipient who you have felt indebted to throughout the year. Both gifts are meant to be seasonal tokens of gratitude rather than solely sentimental expressions.
Ochugen are gifts given to those you feel indebted to during the peak of Japan’s summer. If you are looking for Ochugen gifts, or any gifts for other special occasions, don’t forget to check out our gifts idea page.
We also have a Traditional Japanese wrapping cloth (Furoshiki) for important gifts in Japan.