“A tip is money that is given as consideration for receiving a service, so it’s given after the service is done. On the other hand, a kokorodzuke is given as a kind of greeting. It’s as if to say ‘thank you in advance for today.’ As such it’s given before the service.”
In addition to at the ryokan, wedding ceremonies and receptions are common times to give gifts of money to staff as well as the newlyweds. But how you do it is important too. Gifts of money to a couple on their wedding day are traditionally “wrapped” in a special envelope called a shugibukuro. They can be rather ornate as seen left.
So are they really needed for giving kokorodzuke to staff as well? “Putting the money in a shugibukuro is a little much. Instead use a pochibukuro like used at New Year’s.” So, while thanking someone in advance can sometimes come across as presumptuous in other countries it’s generally expected in Japan. Also, although tipping beforehand can come across a little arrogant and “greasing the wheels” in other countries, it’s the best way to go in Japan.
The tipping system is full of more special cases as well. For example, some people might give an orei to the doctor treating a relative who is seriously ill. However, this could be taken the wrong way and is not advised.
Also, tipping the staff of an unfortunate event such as a funeral is best done afterward as an orei. Confused yet? Well, Ms. Akashi has a few more scenarios to throw on the seemingly random pile. “Giving a kokorodzuke is governed by convention and unwritten rules, so it’s really difficult to know when and when not to do it. For example, I think tipping the movers is no problem.
The good news for those of you visiting Japan is that you probably won’t get embroiled in weddings, funerals, and/or class reunions, so you won’t have think about this.
For those living here, welcome to a confusing etiquette system than even Japanese people aren’t 100% sure about but have to deal with. At least they don’t have salad and dessert chopsticks here.