Winter gifts, or oseibo, are one of those Japanese customs that few Western residents of Japan get behind, no matter how assimilated they think they are. The basic idea may contradict principles many of us grew up with. Though the gifts are ostensibly thank-you gestures to people who have helped you during the past year, the fact that they tend to be given to people who are above you in social station or from whom you have something to gain in terms of business or education opportunities makes some people uncomfortable.
Maybe that’s reading too much into it, but the oseibo tradition seems to be undergoing a paradigm shift that is influenced by more than just current economic realities. A reporter for the Asahi Shimbun wrote a short essay about how it seems that suddenly oseibo counters in supermarkets are becoming quite busy. Normally, oseibo sales of everything from fine fish roe to laundry detergents are the bailiwick of department stores. In fact, the department store you buy your gift from says more about your sincerity as a gift-giver than the gift itself. The more reputable the depato, the more impressed the recipient is, which is why the outside wrapping paper is probably the most important part of the gift.