Japanese people are coo coo for thank you gifts. If you go to a wedding in Japan, you get more than a small match book with names of the couple and date of the wedding (not that there is anything wrong with that). You get a gift. I mean, a substantial gift that would require them to put in a shopping bag. Some of them even give you a catalog from which you can choose an item. Even if you go to a funeral, you get a gift--like a handkerchief (note: people in Japan carry handkerchiefs so this is something everyone uses). It's a joke that we can all continue to give each other gifts until we died.
I recently sent a care package to one of my closest friends in Tokyo who is caring for her dying mother. I've known Kayo since birth and though we never attended the same school, we have been good friends and we've kept track of each other. She is one of the first people I call when I get home and we make sure to see each other. Unfortunately, she is facing what most of us in our age fear and dread which is having to take care of our parents, seeing them fade away while working and raising our kids. Kayo holds an executive position at SONY, has a daughter who is 5, and is commuting to her mother's hospital to see her and talk to the doctor and drops in on her helpless father who feels victimized by all this. She has a husband who is highly capable, as well as a father in law who is very involved with her daughter, but because her older brother lives far from Tokyo, she is burdened with most of the decision making and responsibilities. My mother who has visited Kayo and her mother told me that Kayo was nearing a breaking point from stress, which broke my heart.
This is when the distance becomes frustrating. If I were there, I would go visit her mother, maybe take her daughter to play with my daughter, or do any other number of things to help. But I can't. So I decided to send her a package--American style. Care packages in Japan, though is common from mothers to their children when they move away, is not done all that often between friends, which is strange in a culture that LOVES to give gifts. The term "Care Package" doesn't even exist in the Japanese language as far as I know. I went and got her some spa items that she can use at home in a Japanese bathroom that is good for stress. I bought a cute outfit for her daughter, a nice coffee from Seattle's reputable coffee shop that is not Starbucks (because that exists in Japan), and a pashmina for her mother to use in the hospital. I wanted her to know that I was thinking of her and her mom. I didn't know if they would like any of this, but I felt like I wanted to do something.
This morning, about four weeks after I sent the package, I received a small package from Kayo. In it was a thank you letter from her and a separate card from her mother. She said that she was so deeply touched by the package and everyone loved their gifts. But this is what was amazing. Under the letters, there was a cute little blouse rapped delicately. This colorful cotton blouse flares out at the bottom, has cute puffed sleeves and has three little buttons, one of which is decorated with a tiny knit flower. I knew this was for my daughter and as I looked closely, I noticed that there was no label in it. It was handmade. I looked back to the letter and it said, sure enough, that she made this for my daughter. She said that she has been wanting to sew but hasn't had the time or the mindset and making this cleared the cobweb in her head. This was her thank you gift to me.
I almost cried. Then I felt kind of stupid for buying her kid an outfit from Old Navy.
I was blown away and humbled by her capacity to be this thoughtful in the midst of such hardship. I don't even know how she found the time or the energy and there she was, thanking ME for taking the time in my busy schedule to put a package together. And she did this in less than three weeks--I have yet to finish a quilt I started 4 years ago. I was so grateful for our friendship that started in our parents generation that is now carrying down to our children despite the distance. And I was reminded of the culture that puts as much thoughts in thanking someone as giving. Kayo could have just sent me a card or an email--but no, she went out of her way and gave a piece of her heart to me and my kid.
I don't imagine giving that blouse away even after my daughter outgrows it.