Ochugen: Summertime Gift-Giving Tradition in Japan
Ochugen is one of the two gift-giving seasons in Japan along with Oseibo. People exchange/send gifts to superiors at the workplace and to those who are in close relationships to express gratitude. Ochugen is a similar custom to Oseibo that takes place in the year-end, but there are also differences between those two. Let’s dig into the Ochugen tradition!
The meaning and origin of Ochugen
Chugen (中元), or Ochugen (お中元), is a summer gift-giving tradition that people present gifts to your boss and to those who are in close relationships including relatives, home doctors, teachers, etc. People show gratitude for receivers by sending gifts.
The custom of “chugen” originated from Taoism, and it was combined with the Japanese tradition of memorial services for ancestors, making a custom of giving offerings to relatives. In the Edo period (early 17th century to mid 19th century), chugen got to mean a gift that shows gratitude for those whom you feel grateful to.
As done for oseibo, ochugen is wrapped with “noshigami” when presented. Noshigami is a piece of paper used to wrap gifts on ceremonial occasions. A ribbon is printed in the center, and the word “Ochugen” is written on the upper half, and the name of the receiver is written on the bottom half.
When is the Ochugen date?
Different regions present ochugen at different times; in the early July to 15th of July in eastern Japan, and in the early July to 15th of August in western Japan. But it has been getting common for every region to send ochugen at the same time of eastern Japan.
If not possible to send gifts during the ochugen period, gifts should be sent as “Shochu-mimai”(暑中見舞い) by August 8, or even after that, they should be sent as “Zansho-mimai”(残暑見舞い) by the early September. Both shochu-mimai and zansho-mimai are meant to care how relatives, acquaintances, or friends are doing in the hot summertime.
To whom should Ochugen be presented?
Ochugen is a way of expressing the giver’s gratitude, so the list of recipients should include those whom you frequently interact with, friends, and relatives. The common list of people to give ochugen is,
What type of gifts should be chosen for Ochugen?
Since ochugen used to be offerings dedicated to ancestors, the standard choice of ochugen is food. It is also important to note that gifts should be long-lasting and consumable.
Popular gifts for ochugen are beer, juice, ham, so-men (a type of Japanese noodle consumed in the summertime), and ice cream. Yokan, Calpis, and jelly are also a common choice. Basically, anything that can be enjoyed at best when chilled is perfect for ochugen.
The budget of ochugen is 3000~5000 yen ($25~45).
What should NOT be presented?
Presents that should NOT be chosen for ochugen are the same as oseibo.
Please refer to this page.
-Make sure that gifts arrive during “Ochugen period”
Ochugen should be arrived at recipients during the ochugen period (early to mid-July), at latest by 15th of July. If impossible, send gifts as “shochu-mimai” by the 8th of August or “zansho-mimai” by the early September.
-Wrap with “Noshigami”
Make sure to wrap the gift with a piece of paper called “Noshigami,” with the word “お中元”(Ochugen) on the upper half and the name of the receiver on the bottom half.
-Send message cards before oseibo is delivered
Ideally, it is the best to visit the receiver’s place and give the gift, but it is not possible to every case. If ochugen should be delivered, it is polite to send message cards to notify receivers that ochugen will be delivered. Cards should be sent before the gifts arrive.
-After receiving ochugen…
Ochugen is usually present by the younger to the older, so it is not mandatory to give something back. But is you receive ochugen from friends, co-workers, or siblings, it is polite to send gifts back, or at least send letters to thank for the gifts. Letters include the gratitude for ochugen and the care for the receiver’s health.
Ochugen is a summertime gift-giving custom to show gratitude for close people and to care their health. It will be a good opportunity to thank your important people!