Summer Gifts

Good morning everyone,

It's going to be hot and humid today and tomorrow...ok, ok...it's going to be hot and humid till the end of September. But for this week, today and tomorrow will be sunny as well, then we are looking at rain on Sunday before clearing up again from Monday.

How’s everyone holding out with the humidity and all this rain? Yeah, probably the same as me. Rainy season always makes my head feel foggy, my throat dry and my mood, irritable. I like to remind myself that it’s not forever and that sunny days with clear skies are coming soon but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is genki [元気] or what we describe as ‘happy’ in English.

Anyway, my point is, that just like the rainy season, part of Japanese summer and an ingrained part of Japanese culture is the idea of summer gift giving. Rain and gifts are both things I think of when I think of summer in Japan. Around this time, konbini [コンビニ] and department stores all over Japan display their summer gift catalogues and people take the time to choose appropriate gifts for people who helped them out during the past year (or at least people they feel obligated to send gifts to-like mothers-in-law...ha ha!)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idea, let me give you a brief rundown on the history or background of the concept. From a geographical point of view, the close-living arrangements between Japanese people meant that harmony or wa [和] was important and indeed, something that needed to be maintained. This idea has been passed down from generation to generation and even today, Japanese people are acutely aware of it. Of course, anything that promotes good relationships and allows someone to show their appreciation is viewed as imperative and thus, the idea of gift giving was born.

The two big occasions for gift giving during the year are summer and winter respectively. The summer gift is known as chūgen [中元] or o-chūgen [お中元], with the prefix elevating it to honorific status. Due to the idea of giri [義理], which can be translated into duty, courtesy or social obligation, the summer gift is therefore not just reserved for friends, but also as a necessary means of social ‘lubrication’ for people’s superiors such as those within the workplace. Gifts are especially important as a means of keeping in touch, especially with those you might be unable to see as often as you want. They can be sent at any time during the summer period, however, in the Tokyo area, July 20 is regarded as the latest date for when your gift should arrive, unless of course it’s being hand delivered. Historically the summer gift is also linked to Obon [お盆] or the Festival of the Dead. Although it’s now celebrated in August, in the Tokyo area it was, in the past, usually celebrated earlier in the month of July.

Summer gifts are usually cheaper than winter gifts and the standard budget begins at ¥3000 and ends at… well… whatever you want to spend. Typical gifts include beer, fruit or jelly desserts.

After flipping through a few catalogues, I must say that some of the prices for things like fruit or meat are INSANE.

Fruit

Meat

So, as I’m a cheapskate, I think I’ll be choosing the cheapest options. Just kidding. No, seriously, if I liked you a lot I’d be willing to spend money and indeed, time, in choosing a nice gift for you; I’m a thoughtful person. But… if you were anything less than that… you’d be getting the fruit juice packs. Harsh, but true, my friends.

So on that note, I’m off to flip through one of the many konbini summer gift catalogues I’ve collected to search for the perfect gift… for myself. I’m thinking something expensive because I’m worth it. 🙂

How about you? Have you ever bought a gift for yourself?

Have a great day!


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