中元(ちゅうげん)【Chugen (a midyear gift)】

The word chugen refers to a midyear courtesy gift given to people who have helped you including your bosses and teachers. Chugen are also given to business acquaintances including customers and people who you have done business with. Chugen are supposed to be given during the period from July 1st through July 15th. The word chugen was introduced from China to Japan and it originally meant the 15th day of the 7th month of the year according to the lunar calendar. In Japan, that day fell on the last day of the Lantern Festival (the Bon Festival) which is a day when relatives customarily gathered to hold religious services for their ancestors. People gave presents of rice, noodles, and other such items on that day. This gift giving continued after the Gregorian Calendar was adopted and people still exchange such midyear gifts (chugen) today. Chugen are usually called o-chugen to show respect for the person they are given to. The o added in front of the word chugen shows respect. Chugen may be given to bosses at your company or wherever you work, friends and acquaintances who have helped you, children’s private tutors, relatives, and other people who have assisted you in some way. Businesses and stores may also give o-chugen to their customers and the people they do business with. People primarily give o-chugen to express their appreciation for kindness and assistance that they have received. When gift exchanges in the business world are done, however, they are usually just a mere formality. Department stores throughout Japan are crowded with shoppers purchasing gifts during both the chugen period in summer and the seibo (year-end gift) period at the end of the year.

中元とは、夏の挨拶を兼ねて日頃お世話になっている人々(上司、先生など)や仕事の取引先への贈り物のことです。「中元」を贈る期間は、一般的に7月1日頃から7月15日頃までとされています。「中元」は元来旧暦の7月15日を意味する中国の言葉で、日本ではこの日がちょうどお盆に当たります。かつてはこの日に親類縁者が集まって祖先を祭り、米や麺類を贈る習わしがあったと言われています。この贈答の習慣だけが新暦になった現在でも続いており、色々なところで「お中元」の品が贈られています。会社の上司、世話になっている知人、子供の習い事の先生、親戚などの個人だけでなく、会社や商店の取引先や顧客にも「お中元」の品を贈ります。「お中元」の意義は日頃お世話になっていることに対する感謝の気持ちを表すことにありますが、会社間などでの贈答について言えば、単に儀礼的に行われているものがほとんどです。「中元」期間は年末の「歳暮」期間と並んで、デパートが贈答品を選ぶ買い物客でもっともにぎわう時期です。

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