Historical intercultural interactions between Europeans and Japanese during the seventeenth century were characterised by a diversity of perceptions and attitudes within a dynamic yet stable continuum of relationships, in which people reached a certain degree of understanding in a daily context. This relational stability was fundamentally created through evolving cycles of gift-behaviour, which occurred on distinct social levels. Surpassing mere tribute, this proved to be a constitutive element of daily social life. Research based on early seventeenth century European travellers’ accounts, letters and journals, compared with a famous case from the end of that century, emphasises that this behaviour changed in some ways and persisted in others. Originally developing in a considerably spontaneous and dynamic manner, this tendency became more institutionalised and ritualised in later times, when a fixed protocol for dealing with diversity was established. This phenomenon can be analysed through anthropological theory, and should be compared to different historical contexts in a diachronic sense, in order to fully understand both the theoretical implications and particularities of this context. This includes a methodologically critical perspective as well as a reflection on how historians handle diversity.