We're still bumbling our way through the customs and probably destroying etiquette along the way. There are a number of things we're trying to do, at which we may or may not be succeeding. Gift giving is one of those. A couple posts ago, I mentioned our adventure in peanut butter cookies and the giving (or attempted giving) to the neighbors.
The day care neighbor that wasn't home on our first trip was home later, so we were able to hand that one off, albeit in the middle of their school day. I guess it's socially obligatory to give a gift in return (of more or less equal value) when you are given one. So after handing our tissue-paper-flowered gift bag containing a plastic tub of cookies to the day care neighbor, they motioned for us to wait a moment while they put some oranges and apples wrapped in newspaper into a handled paper bag for us. I felt a little awkward at their feeling the need to reciprocate, especially with our painfully small overlap in vocabulary, but it wasn't too much of an inconvenience or expense, and neither of us had any sort of gift-giving obligation hanging over our heads. I hope we thanked them enough times that they understood we're appreciative.
Do you remember the neighbors across the street, the older woman who didn't speak much English and was very hard on herself about not having anything for us? She and her husband (who does speak some English) came over the next night with a very generous gift bag.
Inside, very carefully wrapped with tissue paper and ribbon, were several items and a card. The card expressed not only a thank-you for the cookies, but they took the time and trouble to translate our names into kanji and tell us the meaning. Husband's name came to "sensitive declaration man" and mine was "joyful dream."
There was also this hand-painted "congratulations fan," which I think is kind of a super nice new year wish. It has their names, a "Happy New Year" sentiment, next year's zodiac animal (it will be the year of the usagi, or rabbit), and our names.
And they went to still more time and trouble to diagram it all out for us to explain it.
Oh, and Neighbor-san is apparently a published poet! He gave us one of his books, written in Japanese but translated into English as well.
The last item was a candle...
...with this, which I take to be a good luck/be good symbol.
There's just no way those cookies were good enough to deserve this kind of generosity.
Having made this attempt and gotten several reactions from "no thank you" to the above-pictured return giftage, and having asked several people their opinions on gift-giving etiquette, I have more questions than I had before.
Is it okay or rude to refuse a gift? If one is refused, should we offer again? (I've heard that a custom is to refuse twice and accept the third time, but I don't know if it applies in that situation.) If Japanese people are obligated to give a gift in return when one is received, does that mean we shouldn't give gifts because it makes people feel obligated and inconvenienced? I need to do more research. And we've decided we should have ready-made gifts all set by the door just in case someone randomly stops by to give one to us, so we're not unprepared.