In Japan, there are two things you do a lot..bowing and gift giving.
These are two facts of Japanese life. One would think, it being so far from American customs, that it would be hard to pick up. To the contrary. The bowing sets in almost instantly, as it is done everywhere for absolutely everything. By the second or third day, your body has muscle memory, and takes over.
After awhile the awkwardness of it all is taken over by the intrigue. It is interesting to watch. To understand the level of respect that the Japanese hold, just for their fellow man, is admirable. There is no caste system, where one group of people deserve bows more than others. Everyone is equal. Everyone is important. When you sit back and watch it, it's a beautiful thing.
Gift giving is also a fact of Japanese culture. There is no investigation into how much the gift costs, or what it is made of. It's just the act of taking the time to think of someone else, and give the gift, that the Japanese appreciate most. You can bring a small bag of candies, or a cake to share, into work and the gratitude is overwhelming. People do this like second nature here.
I once hit the car of a fellow teacher as I was pulling out of a parking spot. While I was freaking out, she was assuring me that everything was ok. I couldn't afford much on my salary here (anything really) but I went to the 100 yen (dollar store) and bought her a handheld fan. She was so surprised the next time she saw me, she nearly didn't accept it. For me, I felt it was the least I could do.
Gifts are important. There is no other holiday that embodies that more than Christmas. Christmas is number one, and birthdays are number two.
True to Japanese culture, it's not 'what' it is that's there, as much as the fact that something is there.
I was speaking with my mother recently who concentrated on the fact that people just don't have it this year.
This is true. I feel that means that those who do have it should not take that for granted, and those who don't still have the abilities to make things, even together, as a family. It starts with a creative approach.
I love the JFK quote.
"When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters.
One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity."
These times, yes, are full of crisis ALL around the world. But, there is no denying the opportunity that awaits these times as well. Be creative. Be simple. Be outside the box. Be grateful. Be giving. It will come back to you. That's how the Universe works.
Give what you can. If all you can afford is a $1 fan, then give it but give it with pride. If all you can afford is a handmade card with crayons, then draw the best damned card you can and send it to whomever it is intended. If all you can afford is a smile. Then smile so hard that the other person will think you recently underwent a facelift.
But give what you can. The receiver's reaction is all the more worth it. I am grateful I was able to pinch my pennies this year and do the same and supply every single person on my list with something. I make that a priority.
Christmas is over, in Japan, but I have been invited to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony with the office staff of one of my schools. I am looking forward to it. Now, I must head to the store to find a gift. I am thinking a small cake...