From Koha to Ochugen - the Etiquette of Gift-Giving Around the World

Little Koha (Gift)

It’s a special feeling when you give someone a gift. Making them feel appreciated and sharing in their delight. The joy of gift-giving is in all of us.

Throughout human history, giving gifts has played an important role. It has helped define relationships and strengthen bonds with those around us. Some cultures even celebrated extreme acts of giving. For indigenous people in Northwest America, status was not garnered by the amount of possessions you own, rather, the amount you give away. Large gift-giving feasts called Potlatch saw families give away most of their possessions to others.

While we don’t recommend handing over all your worldly possessions to your dad this Father's Day, it is interesting that gift-giving continues to play an important role in our lives today.

Gift giving has been a part of human nature for thousands of years. However, different cultures have very different rules and etiquette around gift-giving. When you present a gift, the last thing you want to do is offend the recipient. Here's how gifts are given around the world:

New Zealand – Koha

Koha is a traditional Maori custom which remains well established in modern-day New Zealand. With the literal translation of "gift", koha is usually given to support an event or celebration. A koha is not expected and its value is determined by the giver.

Koha is based on reciprocity, a common feature of Maori tradition. Today, you may see the word koha in the context of a door charge or entry fee. Traditionally, a koha was never explicitly asked for and took the form of food or taonga.

It is considered good etiquette to give a koha at an iwi ran event. It is a contribution to the running of the event.


Japan – Ochugen and Oseibo: The serious business of gift-giving

Gift-giving culture in Japan is one of the most prevalent in the world. Gifts are offered for nearly every event, from graduation to weddings and even finalising business deals. Gift giving is more of a ritual in Japan, and there’s much traditional etiquette surrounding the practice.

While western cultures may consider buying gifts for close friends and relatives, occasions such an Ochugen (a summer gift-giving tradition) sees people buying gist for their boss, family doctor, teachers and co-workers. Another big gift-giving occasion, Oseibo takes place in Winter, with food and alcohol gifts expected for family and close friends.

With so much tradition around gift-giving in japan comes certain rules and etiquette. This includes:

● Giving and receiving gifts with two hands (a sign of respect)
● Don’t give a gift to a single individual while you are in a group
● Open gifts in private
● Initially, lightly refuse a gift you are receiving (up to three times)
● Don’t begin your encounter with the gift. Offer gifts at the end.


Turkey – Hediye: A part of everyday life

Similarly, to Japan, Turkey also has a rich tradition of gift-giving. Hospitality and sharing is at the heart of Turkish culture. In fact, if you compliment a Turk on something they are wearing, there’s a good chance they will try and give it to you!

If you are visiting someone in their home in Turkey, a gift of food for the host is expected. Additionally, if there are any children in the home, candy or a small gift is expected. A gift should be immediately presented to the host on arrival. Gift wrapping and cards are not common and most Turks treat gifts more casually (no need to go too lavish!).

Across the globe, gift-giving has played a crucial universal role in all cultures. As author Charles Eisenstein so eloquently put it, "Community is woven from gifts". Our communities have thrived for centuries based on the intangible positive feelings we get from contributing gifts and building relationships with those around us.