I may have written about this in the past, because I know I’ve thought about it several times. If so, too bad.
In Japan, they love giving gifts. Not necessarily big gifts, but small little presents, usually some kind of food. And they love giving these presents all the time. Seriously, the reasons to give gifts to your co-workers, friends, and estranged family members who live deep in the sewers are far too many to count. These include (but are not at all limited to) birthdays, someone getting married, quitting your job, going on a trip, going on a day trip, getting sick, someone else being sick, recovering from being sick, making someone sick, and being happy that you didn’t get sick when everyone around you is dying of the plague. And as if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, they also give gifts in return for GETTING A GIFT. Just as you imagine, this is a horrible, endless cycle of getting rice crackers, small individually wrapped cookies, and other random little things filled with sweet red beans.
Before I go any further, I will say that I enjoy receiving these little gifts, as any selfish human does. But is it worth it? OK, back to the complaining about the parts of this gift-giving system that I don’t like. As much as I’d like to say “it’s the thought that counts,” in Japan most of these gifts, especially in the workplace, have no thought or feeling at all attached, save for maybe the all-important-in-Japan feeling of obligation. People go through the motions of giving gifts because, like a lot of Japanese traditions, everyone else does it, and if you don’t do it, everyone notices and thinks there’s something socially wrong with you. People don’t care about giving boxes of cookies – they just do it because they have to. They don’t select individual gifts for their co-workers, but rather they stop by the many souvenir stands at train stations and airports to buy a standardized box of cookies, which are the same throughout the country with a different box listing it as a specialty of that area.
Sure, people do give gifts to people and mean it, but the gifts that are exchanged just as a formality become tiresome, especially when you have to consciously leave room in your suitcase anytime you go somewhere because you know you are expected to buy some kind of snack for all of your co-workers. I don’t know how much money is wasted on this industry in Japan, but it has to be pretty high.
Note: I originally got the idea for this post on Thursday morning. Between then and now I received yet another gift (a rice cracker) at work, for someone having a baby. Yes, the new mother sent the office a huge box of snacks. I am unaware of any gift sent to the mother.