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The art of gifting with grace

Japanese gift wrapping

Giving and receiving gifts with grace

About ten years ago, I gave a book as a Christmas present to a friend and she was delighted. Me too, because it was my favorite book and I was sure she was going to love it just as much as I did.

A few months later, I went to her place and by chance my eyes fell on the the recycling bin. I was hurt by her rejection of my gift (and therefore me). I was so ashamed that I never spoke to her about it. Eventually, I even convinced myself that she hadn't liked the book because the translation was bad.

It's only after all this time, and a lot of tidying up, that I can suspect another explanation which, knowing my friend, is more likely. The irony is that now this has become my way of approaching gifts and I am faced with incomprehension from some of those around me.

So, what is a gift?

In Japan, there are several words for “gift.” For example, プレゼント (purezento) is a gift that one gives to a loved one during a celebration such as Christmas, お土産 (omiyage) is a travel souvenir, and one brings a 手土産 (temiyage) to one's host when we're invited.

There are often meanings associated with the objects we give, but at its core, a gift is a message. It is used to convey an emotion — love, gratitude, esteem, etc. — from one person to another. Once the gift is received, the message is transmitted and it becomes an object like any other. So, if it inspires you with tokimeki, keep it and make a place for it in your home. Otherwise, let go it with gratitude for the mission it accomplished.

It's easy to say, I know. But don’t you think that allowing yourself to part with a gift you don’t like is the best way to honour the intention with which it was given to you?

Based on this approach, here are some suggestions that could be helpful in the coming days:

  • Give omoiyari: Take the time to think about the other person and choose a gift that might make them happy. The omoiyari or consideration you bring is a gift in itself.

  • Offer for the pleasure of giving: Give without expectation, reduce the pressure that could spoil the gesture. If you manage to deliver it in person, the shared moment will be a great gift too.

  • Receive mindfully: Reflect on the message behind the gift.

  • Receive with gratitude: Sincerely thank the person who gave it to you not only for the gift but also for their message and their omoiyari.

  • Communicate your tokimeki in advance: Don’t hesitate to ask and give gift ideas to increase the success rate ;)

Gifting and receiving gifts with grace elevates the moment into an art.


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