Wrapping up and gift wrapping in Japan

Orly Mercado

Posted on December 15, 2007

I am wrapping up my activities, and literally, my belongings, as I prepare to leave Japan for good. Three years is an ideal period to live in another country. Short enough to love it and not long enough to hate it, as the saying goes. Much has been written about how foreigners seldom feel welcome here. Although this week’s Time magazine notes the increase in the number of migrating Chinese to Japan, don’t start looking for a welcome mat at the immigration counter at the airport. In fact, visitors must expect to have their eyes photographed and fingerprints recorded. It’s all part of an upgrading of their data base.

On the whole, my stint here in Kobe can be considered ideal for an obsessive-compulsive like me. The biggest danger I ever faced was when a drunk, who obviously was going home, as most of us in the train were in our morning rush to work, puked. No one spoke, but we all quickly and methodically evacuated the car. It was disaster management at work.

Respect for tradition has taught me not to expect changes in the way things are often done. The easy way to survive is to plan ahead and be obsessed with details. Most students talk about the importance of maintaining their “Japaneseness.” But take a closer look at what they say and do and the changes becomes apparent. My students in the Global Communication course I teach get it. The reality is that Japan is looking more and more like the rest of the developed world; as it in turn is beginning to look more and more like Japan. Even so, life here is still not easy for foreigners.

As I was packing, I received a going-away present that reminded me that wrapping is as important as the gift itself. “Furoshiki,” the Japanese art of gift wrapping is said to have functional and spiritual elements. It may be so. Japan is a country where form and substance are oftentimes fused into one. For me that truism helped me adjust to life here in Japan.

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