The Responsibility of Gratitude

My wife, son and I just returned from a Christmas and New Years trip to California and Nevada. In addition to it being the first time to visit the US for our one-year-old, Yuto, it was also a big challenge for my wife's parents and brother, who also accompanied us.

I have led many homestays to the US and New Zealand over the years, but this was one of the more challenging. I was determined that my wife's parents had a good time-a great time-as it was the first time out of Japan for my mother-in-law, and she had all the images of pistol carrying subway-riding thugs that we have all seen on the news.

Well, lo and behold, the trip was a great success! Everyone had a great time, learned a lot, and not least importantly, returned home safely.

As my wife and I prepared for our return to Japan, she started getting nervous about all the shopping she had yet to do. Now, for me, Christmas was over, and with it, my shopping commitments for the next 11 months. Emiko, however, had at least another Christmas list worth of gifts to buy: that wonderful and strange Japanese custom of メOmiageモ [oh-mee-yah-gey], or souvenir-giving, was rearing its ugly head.

When we in America take a trip, we send a picture postcard to those at home, メWish you were here,モ a Jackalope or some scantily clad beach bunnies or something for the boys at home.

In Japan, its gifts, gifts, and more gifts! The system is such that you can even order your Hawaiian macadamia nuts to give to your friends and relatives at the departure airport, so your souvenir shopping can be finished before you even depart on your trip!

Needless to say, I was stunned and even angered to see my wife spending our vacation budget on t-shirts for the neighbors! After all, we WERE in Las Vegas and the casinos were calling!

To make a long story just as long, the two of us returned to Japan with 9 suitcases and a baby. I was still miffed until we saw the worst snow in 20 years on our doorstep in Niigata.

The neighbors, bless them, had shoveled our car out from under almost two meters of snow. On the next day, my car got stuck and I got locked out of our classroom. Again, people came to the rescue. When the refrigerator in the classroom broke, a friend offered her old one to replace it. Again, thank you!

It was at about this time that I began to ask Emiko: メUm, did we get them anything from America?モ Her reply was a well-deserved メI told you so!モ

In Japan, where gifts are sometimes used to grease social relationships, I felt a faint glimmer of understanding. No, a postcard simply would not do for these people who dug out our two cars, found replacement keys and donated kitchen appliances.

The Japanese is, メO sewa sama desu!モ or, メThank you for taking care of us!モ I somehow the Vegas ballcaps don't quite express it adequately either, but I can see now why the custom of omiyage giving will not quickly disappear from these shores.

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