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Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009


Japan's gifted children

There are many gifted children in the world, but Japan would have to have the highest number. I'd estimate that nearly 100 percent of Japanese children are gifted. It's not hard to be a gifted child in Japan though.

I mean, think about it, since you've been in Japan, how many gifts have you received? A few hundred? A few thousand? Imagine how many a Japanese child receives by the time he is 5. This is because in Japan, where generosity is extreme, people are emphatic gift-givers.

I've received, at last count, 1 million gifts from friends, colleagues and unknown drunks on the street.

Japan must be the world's top country in gift giving. In April this year Japan earmarked $14 billion in aid to developing countries.

So it's no surprise that inside Japan people are tossing around gifts like volleyballs. You give me a gift, I give you one back. I give you a gift, you give two back.

Even the two words, "give" and "gift," sound similar. If someone pointed a gun at you and said, "Gift me all your money!" you'd do just that. It's quite possible that the word gift was formulated from the past tense of "give," which is, of course, "gived."

I express concern for Japan's gifted children because they are at risk of becoming over-gifted. It's no wonder gomi yashiki (trash houses) are a problem here.

Did you ever consider that YOU might be the person gifting someone to the point they must use the great outdoors to store all their stuff? And why should authorities fine those people for having too much junk if they're victims of over-gifting? They should fine the gift-givers instead, or at least put a restraining order on them.

I even wonder if some older people's deaths aren't due to over-gifting. It is said that anything in excess is bad for you, so theoretically, if you've lived long enough, "over-gifted" could be a cause of death.

Which prompts the next question: Do the Japanese people still give gifts to people after they're dead? Are our graves going to become gomi yashiki as gifts pile up around us? And will our relatives be fined for this?

One way to protect ourselves from becoming victims of over-gifting is to enforce some kind of quality control. We've all received gifts that elicit a reaction such as, "Huh?" or "What the . . . ?!" Bauble-headed dolls, knick-knacks and other "thingies" like this should be banned as they are a waste of resources.

Most people will just throw them out after a week — the unofficial statue of limitations on the amount of time you must keep, and display, a gift (or until the next time the gift-giver visits your house, whichever comes first).

My policy is to only give gifts that people can easily get rid of: food. Food produces only one type of waste.

Gifting is closely related to another custom in Japan which I call "favoring." On the principle of "One good turn deserves another," people are constantly returning favors, often in the form of gifts. These simple exchanges do not necessarily end there. The person returning the favor has, in effect, performed another favor, and soon they are engaged in a bout of favoring with no tangible end.

This ensures that both gifting and favoring operate daily at a frenzied pace as both parties attempt to return the other's favor, resulting in a ping-pong effect.

I am currently in one of these bouts with some neighbors, which originated with an invitation to their house for dinner at the beginning of the summer. We've been inviting each other for dinner once or twice a week ever since.

Since there are so many of these bouts, where we exchange gifts frequently with friends and neighbors, another way to avoid becoming over-gifted is to agree on a common gift and exchange the same gift back and forth on all occasions.

For example, my neighbor Kazu-chan and I, who are constantly exchanging gifts, could settle on something nice, like a car. When Kazu-chan wants to return a favor, rather than giving me a gift, she gives me this car. When I want to return her favor, I give her the car back. Along with a full tank and a box of fruit on the front seat.

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