The large box that held gifts that we brought back from the U.S. has finally been retired from the dining area to a closet. I’ve realized that it can take a number of weeks to finish giving out the gifts we bring back from trips. Buying “souvenirs” from places you visit to give to your friends, neighbors, teachers, associates, etc. is part of this culture and we are sure that the little trinkets and individually-wrapped cakes and snacks sold in any possible tourist area across this country make up half of the Japanese economy!
Each time we return to the U.S., we are always thinking about what we can bring back for the various groups of people in our lives. And once in a while, I find the need to do things a bit out of the ordinary.
For my ladies’ English class and some of my mom friends, this summer I got a large supply of spices that are difficult to find in Japan: Italian seasoning, apple pie spice, garlic powder, taco seasoning. When the ladies’ gathered after English class for tea time around our dining room table the other day, I put out brown bags that each had several of these American cooking aids in and let each friend choose a closed bag, open it, and if they wanted to exchange the spices for a few extra that I had.
What they didn’t know was that one of the bags had a bonus — a pair of bright orange, lacey see-through underwear. I decided to just see who randomly choose the bag. Much to my secret delight, T., the oldest but perhaps most delightful lady in the class picked the bag. I held my breath as she opened it. She pulled it out with her spices but set it aside… one of the ladies sitting next to her was curious about this brightly- colored piece of fabric and asked her what it was. T. then realized that she had been given something that no one else had, and she held it up — then quickly turned red and sat on it! Everyone had quite a laugh, and T. obliged us all by holding it up for all of us and my camera. She winked, and promised to wear them to class next week.
In addition to keychains and stationery, I also bought similar (perhaps a bit more modest) gift items for the female teachers of Owen, Annie, and Olivia. I told them they may not want to open their gifts in front of colleagues or parents (or students!)….
Gift-giving may be an ancient practice in this culture, but sometimes perhaps we can add some new flavor to the custom…