Thursday, August 16, 2007

How many towels can one family use?

There is one "tradition" in Japan that no matter how long I live here I will never understand. That is the tradition of "return gifts". Whereas in New Zealand we tend to give gifts to people who have babies, get married, are sick etc. the tradition here is to give money. And then... the people who receive the money are expected to give a gift worth about half the amount of money received back to the person they received it from. As well as this being a pain in the butt for those who receive the money it is also a problem for those who originally give the money. That is because you tend to get gifts that you have absolutely no need for and have no way to dispose of. Of course as this is Japan all the gifts are elaborately boxed making more and more rubbish to try and get rid of.
Yesterday was the last day of the "o-bon" period here. This is the time of the year when all the ancestors are brought back from their graves (not literally!) and come and spend 3 days with their families before being piggy-backed back to their resting points. If someone in your family has died in the previous year then you have special prayer sessions etc. and everyone comes to pay their respects - giving money and then of course getting something back in return.... As my husband is a town-office worker he seems to have to go to many, many people's houses and pay a lot of money and therefore gets lots of gifts. The most common gifts this year were hand towels (10 boxed sets in total) and dishwashing liquid... I guess you can never have enough of that!
I guess I shouldn't be negative about the whole system, but to me I think it has just become such a big business that is really unnecessary. The waste is incredible and in an age when people in Japan are often not very financially stable it seems much more sensible to simply give half the amount of money and buy things that you actually NEED with the remainder....

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