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Strike Three - You're Enlightened

Illustration by Marie

Gaijin beware: if you’re not fully acclimated to this ineradicable Japanese custom, the art of omiyage (gift giving), then you may be in for a big surprise. Here’s how the customary, age old tradition frittered away mine and my Japanese wife’s dream vacation to Hawaii.

At first, I thought buying omiyage for all of our family members and friends, from kindergarten to present, bosses and co-workers would be easy. Strike one.

Since it is prosaic in Japan for the housewife to do the shopping, as the bread winner, all I had to do was nod my head yes or no when she found that perfect gift, dish out the cash and carry the bags. No problem, besides, since we had seven days, I was quite confident we could easily balance our time between omiyage shopping and frolicking at Waikiki Beach. Strike two.

While I dreamed of paradise during our flight to Honolulu my wife must have dreamed of shopping because when we landed at the airport, instead of napping off our jet lag, we headed straight to the Ala Moana mall. I had an out of body experience then, impelled by centuries of some inherent Japanese formidable force to shop, and shop and shop for omiyage.

Still numb from a couple of time zone changes, I trailed behind my wife like Kingyo-no-fun, totting bags of omiyage as we weaved through travelling bands of Japanese tourists who zigzagged like schools of hungry tuna fish from one sale to the next.

This whirlwind of weaving, head nodding, dishing out cash and bag totting went on for six days, from dusk till dawn, without a break. My dreams of the beach had long since vanished, so I bought myself a post card. With my priorities readjusted, I abandoned all selfish desires and obtained what I believed to have been enlightenment into the inherent formidable truth of the Japanese way. I was at one with omiyage.

On the eve of the sixth day, shopping complete, we rested. The call of the enticing ocean waves - or was it room service? - beckoned me awake on the seventh day from my abysmal slumber. We had a few hours to spare so I quickly donned my swim trunks, snorkel, mask and fins right there in the room and proceeded to rouse my wife who opened her eyes long enough to tell me she needed to go back to the mall first - to buy a new swim suit. Strike three.

Upon our return to Japan, our grateful family members and friends, bosses, co-workers, all bowing and smiling from ear to ear, graciously thanked us for the omiyage and then proceeded to ask question about our miyage-banashi (experiences of our vacation to paradise). Particularly about how we could spend seven days in Hawaii and not even get a tan? Enlightenment once again overcame me. “Hmmmm,” I said as I repeatedly sucked wind through my teeth. “So desu ne.

Many thanks to reader Glen Steward for this Rant.

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