Japan has a few unique gift-giving traditions, like the mid-year "o-chugen" and end-of-year "oseibo" gifts exchanged between relatives and business associates. For the most part though, things work the same as in any other country. Parents give toys to their kids on their birthdays, who in turn give flowers and neckties for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. And of course, couples give presents to each other.
Also like in other countries, sometimes boyfriends in Japan don’t have a clue about what their girlfriends really want. Case in point: my wife says one of the best things I’ve given her is a thermos, which speaks volumes about either my gift-selecting savvy or her extremely forgiving nature.
Thankfully, for those guys who could use a little insight into the female psyche (approximately all of us), a recent survey asked 103 Japanese women about the presents from their boyfriends that brought tears to their eyes, whether for good or bad reasons.
Starting with the bad news, roughly a third of the respondents, who were primarily in their 20s and 30s, said they had received something which made them think, “Seriously? Why the heck would he give me this?”
“He gave me a frilly lace dress,” said one displeased 35-year-old woman. "But at my age, it’s embarrassing to wear that kind of thing, so I never have.”
Now that we think about it, it might be best to steer clear of clothing, seeing how individual fashion tastes can be hard to guess. How about going the opposite route, and giving something that’s an expression of your own passions instead, something creative and artistic?
“My boyfriend wrote a song about me,” starts one respondent. “He gave me a cassette with a recording of him singing it, but there was so much static and background noise that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.”
Hmm… tough crowd. You know what? Maybe you’re better off not trying to shoot the moon with a romantic ballad, and instead just giving something low-key.
“He went to visit his parents in his hometown, and he brought me back a hand towel with the logo of the local pro baseball team,” lamented another woman. “It was so cheaply made and left so much lint that I gave up on trying to use it, and as for way it looked, the less said the better.”
The Japanese holiday White Day proved to be a particularly tricky minefield to navigate. In Japan, guys are the lucky ones who get gifts on Valentine’s Day, usually chocolate. However, they’re expected to give something, usually of much greater value, in return one month later on White Day, March 14.
“I gave a homemade cake to my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day, and when White Day rolled around, all he gave me was a cake that he baked,” grumbled one 32-year-old woman.
“For White Day one year I got an electric tooth brush, still in the plastic bag from the drugstore where he bought it, with the receipt included,” said another.
While we agree it wouldn’t have killed the guy to gift wrap it, we’d also like to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he was just worried she might need to return it. Besides, isn’t showing concern for your girlfriend’s physical health a noble gesture?
Not according to this 23-year-old-woman. “My boyfriend said, ‘I got you these since the weather is getting colder,’ and gave me a pair of wool panties.”
But this isn’t to say that all women have hearts of stone. On the contrary, 88% of the women surveyed remarked that they had been moved by simple, inexpensive gifts.
“My boyfriend gave me a keychain with a really cute character on it,” one 29-year-old told researchers. “He knows I really like the character, so he got it from a crane game at the arcade for me.” Given the diabolical difficulty of most crane games, we’re not exactly sure we can technically qualify this as “inexpensive” without knowing how many 100-yen coins he had to feed into the machine, but it’s a thoughtful gesture nonetheless.
In general in Japan, unless he’s spending the night, the guy doesn’t escort his date back to her place at the end of the night. Since this leaves the girl walking home alone, many young women in Japan carry a handheld alarm, in case they get accosted on their way home. “After we went out a few times, my boyfriend said he was worried about me, so he gave me one,” said one respondent.
And despite the previous gripe about getting a cake for White Day, food was a big hit. “I was feeling sick and went home from work early,” one women recalled. “When I got to my apartment, there was a plastic bag hanging from my doorknob, and inside was a cup of my favorite brand of pudding with a note from my boyfriend.”
We’re impressed, but can’t help but wonder how this guy managed to find out his girlfriend was clocking out early, go to the store and buy the pudding, write a note, and deliver it all to her apartment all before she got home from the office. Does making a girl happy require superpowers like telepathy and teleportation?
Nope. Actually, it doesn’t even require decent cooking skills, as explained by this woman.
“I was sick at home, so my boyfriend cooked rice porridge and brought it over,” she says, referring to the typical food eaten by Japanese people suffering from a cold or flu. “It tasted completely terrible, but I was so touched that he’d do that for me that I cried.”
As a matter of fact, multiple women said what they appreciated most was a letter of encouragement when they were feeling down, proving that once again, it really is the thought that counts.
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