Giving gifts: a serious business!

It takes a true Japanese to understand the art of giving gifts. As a foreigner you will rather sooner than later be confronted with either receiving or giving gifts and it will amaze you in many ways. In our case it was when we invited colleagues over for lunch.

I was embarrased by the amount of gifts they brought; both the men and  women of the two couples handed over gifts. To sum it up: we got two bottles of wine and a selection of Japanese beers, blue cheese, a box of cookies, peach jelley and two boxes of rice cakes. I felt a little uncomfortable and started to feel insecure about the lunch I had just prepared. I wasn’t sure how to thank them in an appropriate way. Also, should I open the gifts immediately? I did and offered the ricecakes and peach jelley as desert. Probably I made some etiquette mistakes along the way.

Maybe not so much in this case (we are foreigners and it was an informal encounter), but etiquette is important. The value of the present, the wrapping, the bag, the way of handing it over, the way of receiving it,… many things to take into account. The complexity of gift-giving already reveils itself in the terminology: there is oseibo (end-of-year gifts), ochugen( midsummer gift), omiyage (souvenir after a trip) to name just a few. Traditionally the latter is a treat specific to the place you’ve just visited. Last week was Obon- holiday. It celebrates the deadm so lots of people return to their family’s homes. This means: a lot of omiyage presents when you return to the office. Luckily Stan was nice enough to share 😉

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P.S. Before coming to Japan I raised my eyebrows over the amount of sweets and Belgian beers Stan was shipping. Now that I am here, I fully understand why. So if you are planning a trip to Japan never forget to pack some treats!

Yukata party



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On the agenda last week: the 50th anniversary of Oiden Matsuri (Oiden festival). It’s the biggest event in Toyota City, with dance contests – every year the same choreography to the same song! – and a big firework finale on Sunday. Unfortunately the Saturday program was cancelled due to tyfoon alert (which wasn’t a big deal in the end, but hey, it allowed us to cross off some items on our to do list). More important: the Sunday program went ahead. We would be hosting a get-together at our place, as the 22nd floor seemed to be a very popular spot to watch the fireworks. That is how we ended up with a bunch of people drinking Belgian beers, eating sushi, dressed in yukata*, watching one of the world’s biggest fireworks. City on fire!

* A yukata is the summer version of a kimono (made of coton instead of silk) and you don’t need special origami-skills to put it on. Even so, we were happy to get some help from our Japanese friends. Is this the Japanese version of a pajama party? 🙂

Toyota: the city, not the car

Nerd alert! :-b

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Yes, Toyota City (Toyota-shi) does exist! It’s close to Nagoya, the 5th biggest city in Japan. With 425.000 inhabitants, Toyota is comparable in size to the city of Ghent. Before housing the Toyota Motor Corporation the city was called ‘Koromo’. Koromo is Japanese for clothing, because back in the days the area used to be famous for silk production. As the demand for raw silk declined, the Toyoda family (that owned an automatic loom manufacturing business) had to look for alternatives. One engine led to another and they started investing in the automotive industry. People thought they were nuts! They almost went bankrupt, but they bounced back thanks to the 1950 Korean war (that boosted the demand for military vehicles). In 1959 Koromo changed its name to Toyota as a token of respect to its major employer.

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