Overthinking Flowers -- Japanese Edition
April 10, 2015 5:06 AM   Subscribe

I would like to send a colleague a housewarming gift. Tomoya has recently moved from Japan to the UK with his wife and two babies, and they are finding the change challenging as none of them lived in the UK before. They have moved out of temporary apartments into a house, and I would like to send flowers as a welcoming gift. Is this an appropriate gift and should I avoid any particular colours/flowers?

(I am female, and Tomoya and I are work friends -- we chat about work, general goings on but nothing super-personal if that makes a difference.)

I realise that Japanese gift-giving etiquette is very complex and I want to avoid any gifts that are unlucky, funereal, etc.

Any other suggestions welcome...
posted by TriparteGoddess to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The etiquette sites I checked all seem to agree that white should be avoided, as should camellias, lilies and lotus blossoms (all are associated with funerals). Even numbers as well.

How old are the babies? Something quintessentially UK for babies would be a great gift. Stuffed Paddingtons or somesuch?
posted by jquinby at 5:43 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would avoid chrysanthemums and white flowers. They're typically found at funerals. I would also avoid cherry blossoms, since those also have connotations with death.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:46 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Well, irises are a symbol of purification, strength, and protection. They're also used a lot during Children's Day (which is coming up next month).

There are housewarming ceremonies in Japan that are pretty traditional and involve purifying the new home with salt and things. It's also, if my friends and coworkers aren't constantly lying to me, pretty normal to gift sort of utilitarian things that will be used or consumed like tea or sake. So you could do a twist on the bread, wine & salt tradition with bread, sake, and salt (or maybe rice, though it seems best to give something they could eat right away, perhaps something delivered from a nearby bakery to their new address?)

It's always the thought that's most important than the actual gift itself, though do avoid four of anything. Flowers and things like potted plants are a normal kind of gift, though nothing too extravagant is good because they might feel unduly burdened to reciprocate.
posted by Mizu at 6:22 AM on April 10, 2015

It's really nice of you to send a gift. I think sending anything that you might send to a friend as a housewarming gift is nice, as you can introduce them to local culture a bit. Although avoiding white flowers is probably wise. (for reference, a typical Japanese thing is for the person who's new to the neighborhood to give all the new neighbors a small gift, usually towels.)

If it were me, I'd go with a local delicacy, sweets from your favorite bakery, something like that, since it will give you something to talk about, and if they like it you can tell them how to get more.
posted by chocotaco at 6:48 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes to consumables, no to flowers.

Japanese culture is very much about experiencing and talking about food, and specifically food from a particular region and/or seasonal in nature. It should be a welcome gift and one they will find interesting and educational, look at these amazing pastries they have here! Maybe this isn't such a bad place after all...

Flowers....well, I would probably skip that, it seems a bit too tied into ceremony and specific arrangement/style, and may bring up more homesickness than anything else. Go for new experiences that help them get excited about where they are living.
posted by nanook at 7:08 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

If they're having difficulty adjusting, a taste of home would probably be incredibly welcome. Everyone likes a taste of home, but from my experience (in laws bringing instant miso soup with them to meet my family, other similar situations) Japanese people are really, really into food from home. Things like japanese snacks, stuff like Pocky and the like (these are available from "Japan" stores in the US, not sure about the UK) would probably be greatly appreciated.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:18 AM on April 10, 2015

I will shamelessly build on nanook and Ghidora's ideas and (depending on your budget) what about a little bit of both old and new? A box of Japanese snacks/sweets and a box of quintessentially UK snacks/sweets together seems like a nice combination.
posted by andrewesque at 11:58 AM on April 10, 2015

Perhaps a houseplant in a nice pot? A plant makes a house feel more like a home; it's a sign of care, especially if it's one from your own house plant; perhaps a typical British houseplant that is less common in Japan or native to the UK?

FWIW, I recently received whiskey, salt, and homemade bread as a housewarming gift (from a fellow MeFite!) which I think was connected to this Scottish/Northern tradition. It was one of my favorite housewarming gifts ever. (Another MeFite brought potted plant which I also liked!)
posted by maryr at 2:48 PM on April 10, 2015

I can't comment on the cultural aspect, but if you do send flowers make sure they are the sort of arrangement that comes in a box and doesn't need to be put in a vase. If they've just moved across an ocean and are setting up a house, they might not have got around to owning vases yet and your lovely gesture will become a hassle.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 7:18 PM on April 10, 2015

In general, if you're going to send a gift to a Japanese family:

1) Anything that comes in a set of 4 (shi, pronounced the same way as death (死) in Japanese, which Mizu has already mentioned) or a set of 9 (ku, pronounced the same way as suffering (苦) in Japanese) is a no-no.
2) No chrysanthemums or white flowers given its association with Japanese funerals, as Diagonalize mentioned.
3) Given that it's intended to be a housewarming gift, you'd be best to avoid red (including, naturally, red flowers) as well as lighters / ashtrays - Japanese culture considers these to be linked to fires and doesn't bode well for a move to a new home.

For flowers, specifically--are there any flower shops which sell the orchid species Phalaenopsis aphrodite in the UK (known as kochouran (胡蝶蘭, meaning "butterfly orchid" in Japanese) ). From what I've read, Japanese people seem to be very fond of these flowers for celebrating special occasions.

Hope this info will help you pick a gift for your colleague!
posted by Tsukushi at 7:42 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know you've probably sent this by now, but I asked a Japanese friend and came back to report. (Just in case anyone else finds this post years in the future.)

Here's what she said:

You cannot send: Incense stick, lighter, stove, candle, or things concerning fire. No paintings or wall clocks (because "it must not make a hole in the wall"). No Japanese green tea because it is a gift for funerals. Do not send crimson flowers or chrysanthemums.

It's taboo to send slippers and mat for bosses sending things to subordinates.

Her ideas are: towel, detergent, alcohol/beer, useful household items.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:11 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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