Japanese People Love Hand-Made Gifts in Japan
What are popular gifts in Japan?
I have always appreciated the simple gift-giving culture in Japan. Some of my friends describe it as cumbersome since upon receiving something there is always some pressure to reciprocate. Yes, I agree, but at the same time, the reciprocal gift can take various forms and hand-made items that serve a basic every day need are super appreciated. If you expect to give some gifts to friends in Japan, bring along something hand-made or something that that makes every-day chores a bit more fun.
Obviously, you don't have to make the item yourself, but selecting something that meets a common, everyday need in a unique way will make the recipient of your gift smile and feel happy that it is not something over-the top that requires an intricate response in kind. You would be surprised to see year-end gifts being calendars, pens, note pads, beer, juice, coffee, etc.
My former boss would always bring us fresh corn from Iwate Prefecture when he went on his usual ski trips at APPI Ski Resort and there is always something special about receiving a sweet treat from a new place. You cant go wrong with simple food favorites whenever a sudden gift is required.
So basically, when giving a gift in Japan, think "simple" and "immediately useful".
My friend who works on the US base here made cute little bags out of used Stars and Stripes Newspapers and special calendars that show all the US holidays for Japanese people who need to keep track of US days off. Japan Laser (one of the most successful SMEs in Japan) also gave out very useful calendars with lovely photos of various areas in Japan and I myself, give decorative soap and a soap dishes to my clients. My soap dishes were hand-made a friends' Aunt and cousin and all my clients appreciate so much the care they feel when they receive the cute little soap and soap dish.
Yes, gift giving is an integral part of Japanese culture, but you don't have to be over-worried about it. Think of something useful, simple and cute as that will surely make a wonderful and lasting impression.