Seibo (year-end gift) or (end of the year) (歳暮)
Seibo is a season word expressing the end of a year as the kanji of seibo means, also it is a season word for December.
Generally, as an annual event, people make the rounds to offer thanks to someone at the end of the year for caring about them. On this occasion, a gift is usually given, which is called oseibo. Present day, 'seibo' or 'oseibo' generally means this kind of gift or the custom to give it.
Although it is formal to visit the person and give a gift, in many cases, gifts are sent directly (actually via home delivery service) from shops like department stores.
As many commercial goods are bought as gifts, the active during this period is often called the seibo sales battle or the oseibo sales battle.
As gifts for this case, things needed to get ready for the New Year are usually selected. For example, preservable foods such as alcohol (beer or whiskey), coffee, ham, and sausage are usually preferred, but also fresh food such as sea food and beef are used as refridgerated transportation has become available. It is also common to give necessities of life such as detergent and soap. Gift certificates or coupons that allow the receiver choose what he/she wants are sometimes sent as an alternative.
The gift of this period is decorated with a red and white colored mizuhiki (decorative Japanese cord made of twisted paper) and a long, thin strip of a dried abalone (or a mark instead of an abalone,) while only a mizuhiki but an abalone is attached if the gift is fresh food. Care must be taken that the shape of mizuhiki in this case be a bow knot.
Seibo in business society
In Japan, the custom to give seibo to the associates personnel, superiors or directors in charge of associate companies has spread widely. Every year, from the middle to the end of December, gifts between companies, between managers of associate companies, and between employees are generally given. Until the 1990's, big enterprises used to make a list of personnel of associate companies and regulatory agencies and to give them seibo gifts.
Now, it is prohibited for public employees to receive money or goods as oseibo or other gifts from others who seek approvals and licenses, on-site inspections, and contracts (the National Public Service Ethics Code, Article 3, Paragraph 1.)
Although it is not prohibited for private businesses, an increasing number of companies have decided as company policy to refuse expensive gifts as an action to readjust empty formalities after the burst of the bubble economy or to ensure ongoing compliance of business activities. Moreover, to comply with the social tendency of private information protection that has risen from the 2000's, and to prevent collusion between associate companies and employees, there are restrictions on receiving gifts from associated companies to the home of an employee.