One of the trickier aspects of adapting to life in Japan is getting the hang of the numerous seasonal customs. While your acquaintances aren’t likely to get that bent out of shape if you miss a day or two, completely adhering to proper etiquette involves managing a year-round schedule of sending gifts and written salutations to friends, family, and business associates.
The sentiment is definitely admirable, but don’t Japanese people don’t find this all to be a huge hassle? Actually, it turns out some of them do, as shown in a poll of the top five seasonal traditions people in Japan would like to do away with.
Much as the wives in many American families shoulder the bulk of Christmas card writing responsibilities, the task of fulfilling these seasonal obligations often falls to Japanese women. Internet portal My Navi Woman recently asked 441 female users which traditions are no longer necessary in Japanese society (multiple selections were allowed).
5. Grandchildren’s Day – 24.5%
Some 24.5% of respondents said they’d like to nip a problem in the bud by doing away with Grandchildren’s Day, which is celebrated on the third Sunday in October. Grandchildren’s Day is a recent invention, first being observed in 1999.
This isn’t a sign of growing resentment towards children or a weakening of the familial bonds between generations, though. It’s just that Japan already has multiple special days for kids. There’s Hinamatsuri/Girl’s Day on March 3, when families display lavish sets of dolls, and the Shichi-Go-San festivities in on November 15th for children who have turned seven, five, or three during the year. And of course there’s also the holiday explicitly known as Children’s Day on May 5, which is marked with families and towns flying colorful carp streamers for their little ones.
Some people think yet another day for tikes is overkill, and in fact Grandchildren’s Day hasn’t caught on like the above holidays. “My kids’ grandparents haven’t ever really done anything special for them on Grandchildren’s Day,” remarked one 25-year-old survey respondent.
4. Summer Greeting Cards – 25.4%
Japan’s summers get blistering hot and mercilessly muggy. Dehydration and heat exhaustion pose serious threats, so much so that Japan has a tradition known as "shochumimai," literally “inquiring about the sick during the heat.”
There really isn’t that much involved in the practice, as even the message written on the card typically follows a concise, pre-set Japanese phrase along the lines of, “I am writing to inquire as to how you are holding up during the summer heat.”
Still, with our modern lifestyles meaning less time working the fields under a blazing sun and more time indoors with the air conditioner blowing and a cold drink from the fridge, an increasing number of people don’t see the point in sending these cards. “I’ve never sent one, since I really don’t see what the purpose is,” wrote one confused 25-year-old respondent.
3. New Year’s Cards – 28.6%
Compared to the West, the atmospheres of Christmas and New Year’s get switched in Japan, with the former for parties with friends and fancy dates for couples, and the latter reserved for a quiet time at home with family. This even extends to sending cards called "nengajo," which post offices deliver on Jan 1.
"Nengajo" are pretty similar to Christmas cards, except that instead of being enclosed in an envelope, the message and picture are printed directly onto a postcard. The imagery is different too, of course, with the Chinese zodiac animal for the upcoming year used.
In years past, handwriting "nengajo" was an arduous process, but in recent years software packages make selecting a border, pasting in a photograph of the family, and automatically inserting mailing addresses a snap.
Many young people have taken that technological advancement one step further, though, and now forego physical paper cards entirely by emailing digital "nengajo" instead. Others are irritated by the obligation to send New Year’s cards to their coworkers, especially given how short Japanese vacation periods are. “I’ll be back at work and see everybody just three or four days after the new year starts,” grumbled one respondent, “so it’s a waste of money sending cards to them all.” Fair point.
2. End of the Year Gifts – 30.2%
The pricier compliment to "nengajo" is "oseibo," an end of the year gift. Japanese culture has long held that not causing trouble for others is a virtue. Inevitably, though, during the course of an entire year, all of us run into situations where someone lends us a hand. In those situations, traditional etiquette holds that a gift should be sent at the end of the year, as a token of the gives gratitude, plus a sort of “thank you in advance” for the year to come.
Given the small size of Japanese homes, it’s commonly held that the best gifts are things that can be used up. While this belief commonly manifests itself in food "oseibo," in December you’ll also find stores selling things like tastefully packaged gift sets of things like laundry detergent.
Of course, if someone is kind enough to send you an "oseibo," it also means an outlay of time and money on their part, so Japanese manners require that you send an "oseibo" of your own in return. Some people find this zero-sum dance tiring and ultimately pointless, such as the respondent who remarked, “Since we’re just giving each other gifts that cancel each other out, I don’t think we need to do this anymore.”
1. Mid-Year Gifts – 32%
Just like New Year’s Cards and "oseibo," Japan’s summer greetings also have an associated gift, the "ochugen." The impetus here is exactly the same as with "oseibo." In the six months since you sent that person a New Year’s gift, they’ve probably once again gone out of their way to help you in some way, whether great or small. As such, it’s only proper that you send them another box of fruit, or something, to express your appreciation.
As "ochugen" are essentially just "oseibo" at a different time, they generated similar complaints. “I think we should just send gifts when we want to, instead of having to do it every year,” proposed one respondent.
She’s got a point, and besides, summer is already such a busy time in Japan. It’s one of the few times workers can expect a vacation, schools have their longest break of the year, there are fireworks festivals almost every weekend, and for a few glorious weeks there’s that perfect beach-going sweet spot after the rainy season and before jellyfish season. With so many other draws on our time, we’re almost entirely onboard with the idea of doing away with giving mid-year gifts, even if we can still see one potentially huge upside to continuing the practice.
Source: Niconico News
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