Sunday, February 24, 2008


The Game You Can Never Win

Outgrown children's clothing that is still perfectly usable piles up pretty quickly around here. I am thrilled to find myself on the receiving end of hand-me-downs from a certain darling pair of twins whose mother has excellent taste in clothing, mostly bought in the States, and happier still to be able to pass many of those items on again to one of Mina's friends who is about half her size, even though she is only two weeks younger than Mina. As for Sam's things, well, we just don't know any boys! We have received exactly one moss green Guess jean jacket on the boy's hand-me-down front and I had not found anyone to pass things on to, until . . . until . . . Kaz was born.

Kaz is the new little brother of one of Mina's classmates. Her mother and I are acquaintances; she had sent me an e-mail once or twice in English and I was eager to develop a friendship with her. I asked her if she would like to have a few of Sam's things that were still in good condition and she replied affirmatively with a smile. I thought I had some things for baby boys, but I guess I got tired of looking at the bag full of clothing and finally put it out to be recycled, so I ended up having a lot less to give her than I had originally thought. Then, I found out that Mina and Sam's new cousin is going to be a boy. Still, I had to pass somethings on to Kaz because I had already mentioned it. I picked out the very best pieces, filled up one medium size paper handle bag and passed them to her one day after school. The rest I gave to my sister-in-law. I apologized to Kaz's mom, explaining that I thought I had more, and she told me that she was happy with anything and that I had really helped her out.

Two days later she hands me a bag and says, "thank you so much for giving us the clothes, this is just a little something." I was expecting this. The Japanese are always playing this game of "return gifts." You can't do anyone a favor with out being given towels or candy in return. When I got home and opened the bag, I was astonished. She had given us chocolates, princess snacks, two toothbrushes and children's toothpaste. This was more than enough, however there was another bag as well. Inside this bag were two wrapped packages, one pink and one blue. The pink one contained a gorgeous, white cotton little girl's slip with lace appliques. The blue one was filled with five cute, little boy's dinosaur undershirts. What was the point in me giving her the hand-me-downs?!?!?!? I swear, the bag I gave her had one super cute corduroy overalls set, two pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans and two T-shirts. Okay - one T-shirt was Ralph Lauren, which is really expensive in Japan and the other was Tommy Hilfiger, which is only available on the shishilala shopping street downtown, but I bought them at TJMaxx and they were used! Then I remembered when Kaz was born and all the moms in our class went in together to buy a gift for her, again the return gift had been more than the original gift. It is wonderful that she is so generous, however I feel badly. Taking our hand-me-downs cost her well over $50. I feel like I can never give her hand-me-downs again.

Another friend of mine once gave us a DVD of Mina's sports day at school. I gave her a thank you card and enclosed some Baskin Robbins gift certificates. The next day she returned them to me, insisting that it was not necessary and that if I gave them to her she would not be able to do a favor for me again and said that the letter was all that she needed. At the time I was heartbroken and confused; I was just doing what I thought was done in Japan. Now, however, I understand her feeling completely and I am grateful for her honesty and her friendship. I thought about doing the same and returning the clothing, however a few things stopped me. 1. I had already opened the gifts. 2. I don't have the language skills to express tactfully what the other mother had said to me. 3. I am not as close to this mother as I am to the mother who returned the gift to me. 4. I am afraid of offending her. So, I wrote her a thank you e-mail and if I ever do give her hand-me-downs again, I will ask her to please not give me anything in return and if she tries to, I will refuse it from the first moment.

I am so glad that the mother who gratefully accepts Mina's hand-me-downs does not respond in this extravagant way. Again, we are closer and have known each other longer. The thing that pleases me most is to see her daughter using the clothes.

So, even if I didn't succeed in cementing a new friendship, I did gain a deeper appreciation for two of the friends I already have, friends who do not go in for this over-the-top show of who can out gift whom. It is a game you can never win and one I don't really even want to play.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


How Monsters Are Made

Another Valentine's Day has come and gone. Sam is two years old and he received five Valentines. How many did Mina receive? One. From her American Grandparents. Sam got a box of Swiss chocolates with a picture of a train on the front from one of the ladies I teach. He was given a pack of chocolate cigarettes by one of the girl's at Mina's swimming school. He received a bag full of Disney's Car's chocolates from the little girl who is in his Friday class and attends the same day care center and some homemade chocolates from a family friend. The mother of the swimmer said to me, "he probably doesn't understand yet." I answered that he is learning quickly! Life is good for boys in Japan. What is with the focus on the males? No matter how many years I live here, I think this is one of those things that I will never get over. Japan is often accused of being a sexist nation and in so many ways it is. What can I do about it? I can raise Mina and Sam equally. I can teach them to respect others for how they live their lives and not because of their gender. And Mina can give Valentines to all of her friends at school. And Sam will absolutely be giving presents to those who gifted him when White Day comes around.

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