Toad from Super Mario Brothers

Give and Give Alike: Gift-Giving in Japan

Over the weekend, we took a trip north to the beautiful Nikko region. On our way to the train station, we bumped into our neighbor who has looked out for us since we arrived in Japan.

We made a point of finding a small gift to bring back to her from Nikko. Omiyage is a huge component of Japanese culture. It’s common to bring back a small gift for your friends or co-workers when you travel. Every train station and tourist town is packed with omiyage shops.

Edible items are the most popular, usually the local speciality. We brought her back a small bag of Nikko Cheese Eggs. Despite the exotic name, it’s just a small piece of delicious cheesecake wrapped in a piece of pastry.

Gift-giving is often a reciprocal experience. When I delivered the cheese eggs to our neighbor, she asked if I liked daikon, a large white winter radish. She returned with a daikon from her garden and two persimmon from the tree in her yard.

As she handed me the 15-inch-long daikon, she made a motion indicating she just pulled it out of the ground with great effort. I immediately had a flashback to my youth.

Toad, from Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. 2, was an avid daikon picker

Toad, from Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. 2, was an avid daikon picker

At least now I know where the Nintendo game designers got their idea for Toad… real-life Japanese gardeners!

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