Week 4: Cultural Concepts September 28-October 4



  • Ch. 28, Pg 233-242 “The Japanese Custom of Gift Giving,” Zoto 贈答
  • Ch. 27, Pg 223-232 “Simplicity and Elegance as Japanese Ideals for Beauty,” Wabi-Sabi 侘び寂び
  • Ch. 4, Pg 35-40 “The Japanese Sense of Beauty,” Bigaku 美学
  • Ch. 3, Pg 23-34 “Descent from Heaven,” Amakudari 天下り


Visit a Japanese Church. Observe different ways that the cultural characteristics in the book are seen at the Japanese church.

  • (If that is not possible, interview someone who has attended.)

Writing: Weekly Paper: “Impressions and Points from Your Reading”

  • 1. Interact with the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
  • 2. Discuss how these cultural characteristics might affect your ministry with Japanese people.


  • Pray daily for Japan and Japanese, using Operation Japan. Make a note in your blog concerning the information and/or your prayer.

Extra Suggestions:


  • 0

    Pray for the Tokushima Prefecture

    Steven La Voie

    I prayed for the Tokushima prefecture in that the followers of the Soka Gakkai sect and Buddhist adherents of Nichiren may come to know Christ. I also pray that the teachers in public schools may be a good representation of Christ and that Christian schools maybe built soon in the area.

  • 2

    Week 4

    Alissa Bauer

    The Japanese concept of gift giving is a bit overwhelming! It makes me think I’m going to mess up A LOT when I move there!! Which I will, and that’s okay – hopefully I’ll learn from my mistakes. I thought it was really fascinating how the gift giving customs apply with the gods too. That you pray to the gods, give them money, and expect something in return… I wonder how a Japanese person feels about the grace of Christ when they come to know him.
    I also just realized that some of these concepts apply in Taiwan as well. When I spent a summer there, I had given many gifts, and always received something in return. I even had someone apologize to me and at the same time, bring me bubble tea! I didn’t realize that apologies could also be tied to gift giving.

    • Steven La Voie

      Yes Alissa! The concept of gift-giving in Japan does seem to be very overwhelming. I too thought it was interesting that even the kami themselves receive gifts and Japanese expect something back from them. I hear from many Japanese that understanding what forgiveness is from Christ and that they do not need to “repay” Christ for His sacrifice is a challenge when they become Christians. This would be a negative side to the giving of gifts in Japan. That is really cool that you went to Taiwan and experienced a similar thing there. It seems to be a way of keeping the harmony with others or something. Good insights!

    • Brandalyn

      Yes, the grace of God would be a shocking reality – that we can’t buy or earn his love and grace.

      RE-being overwhelmed by gift giving – just be sure that you have a stash of small gifts with you when you go so that you’re prepared when you meet people and get invited. And they LOVE hand made items – or things from your home country.

  • 1

    Japanese Giving Perspective

    Steven La Voie


    Question 1: After reading this question, I see just how much of a problem the Japanese have with their giri 義理 or social obligations in their giving of gifts. Apparently, the Japanese themselves see an issue with just how ritualized the giving of New Years cards have become. The sending of the same messages in the cards and lack of handwritten notes suggests how the Japanese people do things more out of social obligation for the sake of social obligation.

    Since I am Western person with some Middle-eastern background, I can kind of understand the social obligations that Japanese people have to contend with since I was raised that if someone gave you a gift or something unexpectedly then I would feel obligated to give them something back which takes away from the heart and personal attachment to the gift giving. While I learned to change my thinking on giving gifts socially and under obligation, I can empathize a little with how much pressure the Japanese people feel under giving gifts. In essence, it has become a social norm for them to engage in this kind of giri.

    In a more personal setting, I have given Japanese students lots of rides and helping them understand American culture and learn English. Before they return to Japan, I usually receive a small gift such as a handwritten note or a small souvenir from Japan (I received a sushi keychain last time in the spring). I wonder whether the gifts that I got were actually personal and from their heart rather than out of a pressure to repay me for what I helped them with. At this point, there gift becomes just a gift given out of obligation rather than from a sense of friendship or thankfulness (though this is probably not the case with all gifts).

    On a more theological level, I am thinking that the Japanese may receive the Gospel in a sense that they owe Jesus something for paying for their sins when they do understand the concept of sin and shame. This in turn may turn into excessive guilt over not confessing all sins or feel they feel unable to “pay” Jesus back for what He has done for them (which He does not nor can we).

    • Brandalyn

      I am thinking of your comment about the Japanese potential sense that they owe Jesus something for paying for their sins. I can see that going both ways – like you say, it could result in excessive guilt and “religious obligation”, but I am also hopeful that perhaps it could also lead to a deeper commitment and love for the Lord than we see in some other cultures where we are very self-focused on what we’ve gained (or avoided) and don’t feel that we need to be particularly engaged in the Lord’s business. I think that if the Japanese, as a people, grasped the gospel they could really be committed and on fire for the Lord in a way that our north american culture isn’t.

  • 1

    Brandalyn - week 4 - Zoto


    This chapter is great in revealing the gift giving culture in Japan. It explains much of my experience. I didn’t know a lot of the requirements about the appropriate relative values of reciprocal gifts or the never-ending requirements for reciprocal gifts. Their gift giving also explains why Japan is the Mecca of nick-knack shopping!

    I have experienced some the stress of Japanese gift giving requirements when my friends were invited to a distant relative’s wedding and they felt socially obligated to send a monetary gift of a given dollar value – even though they didn’t have the financial means to do it. There was great pressure to withdraw money from their children’s education savings to be able to meet this social obligation. It caused them great stress. It didn’t seem to be very “optional” to do what was reasonable for their financial situation. So I can sure see how the gift giving culture can cause some major stress!

    1 – I’m not sure that it is amazingly different in Canada – there is a tradition/obligation to send Christmas cards – they don’t always have much of a personal message, but likely more than what is described in this chapter. I think that people should do what they feel is important – I am not a fan of social obligations that I don’t believe in, but this New Years exchange seems very aligned with the Japanese culture. It just fits.

    2. It doesn’t seem to me that it is commercially driven so much as socially driven for proper etiquette. If anything, I feel like we in North America are MUCH MORE commercially driven than the Japanese for gift giving.

    3. I am sure that there must be – there are always people who will take advantage of such things. It does seem a safe move to put in such legislation.

    4. I love it – it is so very Japanese. Of course it isn’t “necessary” – but it fits with the Japanese doing whatever they do “right.”

    5. From what I’ve read in this chapter I can see an expectation of an appreciation gift.

    Cross-cultural issues:
    1- In many cases they ask friends/family about when it is appropriate.
    I think that giving money as a gift is good – it provides greater flexibility to the receiver (and the giver). It is perceived in a variety ways by a variety of people and cultures – definitely both ends of the spectrum.

    2 – I’m not a fan of giving gifts at Christmas because it has become so obligatory. I like gift giving when an ideal gift is found for someone – not so much for a specific occasion. I do like giving people a gift when I first meet them at their home in Japan. I’m not sure that I’ve come across a culture that is as gift-giving as japan.

    3 – That is not common in Canada – except maybe if you get someone a birthday or Christmas present, you may want something in return.

    4 – It fits the way Japanese operate and their respect for one another – in the Japanese context it certainly seems that it is less about how you feel and more of a social structure. The nice thing about giving from the heart is there is more depth and meaning to them, not just obligation and social structure.

    5 – The gift would be an expected act of social obligation in Japan, it would be seen as inappropriate and trying to bribe in North America.

    • Riz Crescini


      We do our best as we can with the gift-giving tradition, but there are times when we just break protocol and we’re excused or “forgiven” for being foreigners. With our church, we definitely don’t bring home souvenirs the way we used to when we first came to Japan. I think after while you know your particular audience and know if they will be offended or not if you don’t bring home a gift.