By: Shirley Iida
In Western culture, guests invited to a party or informal gathering usually give generous gifts for the occasion. But in Japan, the custom goes beyond what’s expected.
The host feels obligated to give an okaeshi, a present in return, to express gratitude for their guests’ kindness and support, says Company President Robert Iida. It’s an etiquette many locals have adopted to uphold a long-established tradition from their ancestors.
Okaeshi can be just about anything as a ‘thank you’ gift for Yakudoshi and Kanreki birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, even funerals, Iida said. But most customers prefer to share something practical and meaningful to bring back fond memories of the occasion.
Mabel Yonemoto, a member of the Japanese Women’s Society Foundation and longtime customer of Iida’s, agrees.
“Instead of buying cookies and candies, I’d rather give something long-lasting,” she said. Yonemoto loves to buy setomono or Japanese ceramicware plates, bowls and teacups as token gifts for her dear friends and family.
In fact, she gave 18 bowls as Christmas gifts for her karaoke group last year. Each person received a box of 2 blue Nami Tsuru bowls with a design of red-crowned cranes flying above the ocean.
“They loved it!” she said. A small sheet of paper accompanied each pair of bowls to explain that these particular cranes, the rarest species in the world, are symbols of happiness and long life in Japan.
Yonemoto chose from a variety of setomono in assorted sizes and designs, all microwaveable and dishwasher safe. Prices range from $2.95 to $23 per dish. Gift-wrapping with noshi-gami costs an additional $1 per box.
Noshi-gami is Japanese formal paper that covers the gift. “Noshi” refers to an image of a strip of dried abalone in a folded piece of red and white paper, which bestows good wishes and fortune. “Gami” means paper.
The print of a red and white cord called mizuhiki tied in a butterfly bow appears for birthdays, anniversaries and other recurring celebrations. The meaning behind the bow is that it can be tied, untied and tied again. A tight knot with the ends of the cord facing up is for once-in-a-lifetime events, weddings and funerals, that aren’t meant to be repeated.
Red and white cords are used for joyful celebrations, black and white cords for funerals and burial ceremonies.
What’s most important, Iida said, is that the wrapping be neat and attractive because the appearance of the gift is just as important as what’s in it.
“We take great care in wrapping, even if the work takes much time and labor,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know of any other store in Hawaii that offers this service anymore.
Okaeshi can be given as one gift per person or per family. Iida recommends placing an order at least a week in advance from the day of pick up.
“Thank you to Iida’s,” Yonemori said. “I’ll be seeing you pretty soon for Christmas.”