Gift giving traditions in Japan and these special envelopes

Japanese society is very much obsessed with sending and receiving gifts on various occasions. Seasonal gifts like Oseibo and Ochugen as well as occasional gifts of the wedding, childbirth, etc. are also considered very important. Even though gift items like eatables, beverages and other things are sent as Oseibo and Ochugen, monetary gifts are prefered as the ceremonial gifts. Special envelopes are used for enclosing this monetary gifts. These are called ‘Noshibukuro(熨斗袋)’. Envelopes for each occasion has a different kind of colourful knots on it which has separate meanings.

Japanese GIft envelopes at the store

Envelopes with special Mizuhiki knots

Mizuhiki is the knots seen on the gift envelopes. Basically, there are two kinds of Mizuhiki knots: one with complicately tied ends(Mizubikiri) and the other with untied ends(Chou musubi). The Mizubikiri type knots are meant for occasions that happen or are wished to happen only once in one’s life. For e.g., Wedding, Death, Hospitalization etc.

Choumusubi knot

While the envelopes with loosely tied/ united Mizuhiki knots are used for occasions that are wished to happen again in one’s life. For eg., childbirth. The occasion for using the envelopes changes based on the type of Mizuhiki knots above it. Some of the knots will be made in the shape of flowers, Koi fishes etc. The shapes increase the gorgeousness of the envelopes which depends on the regions, occasions when it is used as well the era and the seasons. The colour of the strands used in the knot can be silver, white, red, golden etc. which also differ for various occasions.

Mizubikiri knot

The cost of the envelope should be 1-2% of the total amount enclosed in it. It is very important to choose the correct type of envelopes to gift money during every occasion.

Gift-giving occasions

1. Shussan Iwai(出産祝い)/ Uchi Iwai(内祝い): Childbirth gifts

Childbirth is one of the occasions when congratulatory gifts are given to the parents of the baby. Relatives and friends will give various gifts like baby products, sweets or other useful items to the parents. But monetary gifts are given by the close relatives and friends of the family during this time. As childbirth is an occasion that is wished to be happening more than once in a person’s lifetime, envelopes with untied or loosely tied up Mizuhiki knots(Chou musubi) are used to enclose this gift money. These special envelopes are called Goshuugibukuro (ご祝儀袋). The amount ranges from 5000 yen onwards and varies according to the association with the parents of the baby.

2. Kekkon go-Shugi(結婚御祝儀): wedding gifts

Wedding gifts are usually monetary gifts ranging from a minimum amount of 10000 yen onwards. Friends of the bride or groom participating in the wedding function are supposed to pay a minimum amount of 10000 yen. This is always given in envelopes with complicately tied Mizuhiki knots the as wedding is wished to happen only once in a man’s life. Most of the envelopes used to gift money for the wedding functions look really gorgeous. The Mizuhiki knots will be made of golden, red and white coloured strands. The return gift or thanks telling gifts are given by the couple to everyone who gave them gifts on their special day which may be some household items or other things.

3. Kouden(香典): Funeral

The money offered for funeral functions will also range from 10000 yen onwards which is also determined by the relationship with the family to whom it is offered. It is also given in an envelope with Mizubikiri knots as death is once in a life event. Being a sad occasion, the envelopes will be very simple with the Mizuhiki strands made of white/silver and black colours. The ends of these strands will be directed upwards and the envelope will be either plain or has a picture of lotus on it.

4. Nyugaku Iwai(入学祝): School admission

School admission is another time for Japanese to gift money. The students enrolled in a new school will be given monetary gifts by the close relatives and family. It is given in envelopes with Chou musubi knots made of red and white strands, as school admission is supposed to happen more than once in a person’s life. Here also the minimum amount is 10000 Japanese yen.

Things to be taken care while monetary gifts in Japan

  1. Select the correct envelopes: While giving gifts or offering money for various occasions in Japan, it is very important to select the correct type of envelopes for enclosing the gift. We can found separate envelopes for each occasion at the bookstalls, supermarkets, home centres etc. The type of Mizuhiki knots on each envelope determines the occasions in which it can be used.
  2. Use new unwrinkled notes as gifts
  3. Do not enclose an odd number of currency notes: It is very important not to enclose an odd number of currency notes inside the gift envelope. Odd numbers are considered unlucky in Japanese society.
  4. Refrain from 4 and 9 for happy events: 4 and 9 are considered as unlucky numbers. Hence enclosing 40000 or 90000 or similar amounts with numbers 4 and 9 should be avoided.
  5. Don’t enclose even numbered amounts(for eg. 20000,40000 etc) for wedding functions. As these numbers are easily divisible, it sounds like parting. A wedding is an occasion when words, manners, gifts and everything are to be done very very carefully.
  6. Pay attention to the minimum amount: Every occasion has a predetermined minimum amount of money to be enclosed. It changes depending on the association with the person to whom it is gifted. For weddings, a minimum amount of 10000yen is prefered. For every function, 5000 yen is a set minimum amount to be gifted.
  7. Write the details on the envelope: The name of the person gifting it should be written on the envelope. The amount enclosed in it should also be written.