Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rubbish Gift Boxes

I've noticed a rather curious phenomenon in the supermarkets and department stores of Japan - Rubbish Gift Boxes. In Britain (or America, or Canada, or most other places) you may have been lucky enough to receive a food hamper at Christmas - they usually contain a hotch-potch of food-related goodies, perhaps a Christmas pudding, a few tins, cakes and other sweetmeats, and possibly even a good bottle of wine. Although sometimes disappointing, they often make a nice gift, and if nothing else you can use the empty hamper as a stylish picnic accessory for those romantic meetings in the local park.

In Japan, however, the romance of the hamper seems to have been killed entirely, and replaced by gift boxes which you can only describe, at best, as functional. Take a glance at the pictures below and you'll see what I mean - I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I could mask the disappointment on my face if I were to receive a gift wrapped case of cooking oil for my birthday.

I asked one of the teachers at school what the idea was behind these mysteriously lacklustre gift sets. After laughing for a bit, the best explanation he could come up with is that they're "something useful for a wife".

You can imagine the scene. An over-worked salary man is making the long drive home to his loving family, as his thoughts begin to dwell on the beautiful woman he married ten years previously. He realises that, due to budget cuts and a recent staffing crisis, he's been spending far too much time at the office recently, and perhaps his doting partner is feeling the strain of neglect. He makes a snap decision to buy her something, and pulls into the local late night supermarket. Eschewing the usual chocolates and flowers he instead decides to get her something really special, something that is not only romantic but practical too: fifteen cans of tuna in a cardboard box.

Now, if I was that wife, probably the first thing I'd do if I were to receive this "special" gift is to throw each can, hard and fast, directly at my idiot husband's forehead. But maybe that's not how things are done here. Maybe the wives of Japan are ecstatic to receive such thoughtful gifts, dutifully hugging their spouses and declaring excitedly, "Wow! Tuna! How did you know! I'll use it to make the kids' school lunches right away!".

Maybe. But possibly not.


Blogger papa said...

Lewis, those aren't the kinds of gifts a husband would buy for a wife. (Actually, as a rule I don't think Japanese husbands buy gifts for their wives, even for birthdays. She's got to bilk him while their dating because after the wedding she's on her own for luxury purchases.)

Those gift boxes are the social glue of the semi-annual gift exchange seasons, CHUUGEN at mid-year and SEIBO at year-end, and all the times in between when you find yourself indebted to someone you don't care enough about to think of an original gift. Since the gifts are strictly a matter of social obligation without much sentiment behind them, and Japanese homes are chronically short on knick-knack display and storage space, it's generally very welcome to receive something you can use and consume and not worry about throwing away more than the container. A case of vegetable oil is a slightly less-crass gift than cash.

2:52 pm  

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