The Unique Japanese System of Gift Giving; Responding Correctly

I was sitting in a classroom after class alone, and a sweet, shy Japanese student came into the room, came running by my desk, dropped a Japanese origami paper bird on my desk, didn’t even look at me because she was so shy and just kept walking and out the other door.  Many people would be confused by what she did, but I wasn’t. I completely understood.  It was a gesture of friendship.  She was telling me that she wanted to be friends.  The process wasn’t over.

shallow focus photography of paper crane
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

I was in America teaching at a university in a program called “The Welcome Program” that specialized in welcoming Korean and Japanese students to America.  It was part of a larger International student program that had much more than just oriental students, but this particular program was just for the orientals. I worked in conjunction with the International student director, and all the students in the class were Korean and Japanese.  I knew the appropriate response to the Japanese paper bird gift because of my time in Japan.

woman sitting down near two men holding up pen and notebook
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I wanted to be friends with the girl. In fact, I wanted to be friends with all six students in that class.  I love Japanese and Korean people!  There were three Japanese and three Koreans in that class, and it was my job to get their English good enough to join in the classes with American students.  I needed to find an appropriate “return gift” for her. If she received a “return gift,” then she would not be so shy to approach me and talk to me.

native american chief photography
Photo by Darcy Delia on Pexels.com

I am part American Indian, and I love Indian artifacts and studying about the American Indians.  When I was working with international students down in Texas, all those international students, regardless of from what country, were interested in cowboys and Indians.  They always wanted to go where they could buy cowboy hats, cowboy boots, Indian arrow heads, etc.  Those are a very basic part of our American culture that foreigners are fascinated by.  I was in the northern part of the U. S., but I knew exactly where to get a gift that would be appropriate to give back to this girl, and not only to give back to this girl, but to let every student in that class know I would like to be friends with them. The Koreans give gifts differently, but at the time, I didn’t know much about the Koreans, so I was treating them just like I would treat a Japanese.

man holding wood standing
Photo by Alexandria Baldridge on Pexels.com

I went to a place called Rinks in Marietta, Ohio. It was in a shopping center like Wal-Mart, but it wasn’t Wal-Mart. It was a giant Flea Market with all kinds of interesting items from all over the United States.  I knew that Rinks sold Indian arrow heads.  They were made by Indians in the South Western part of the U. S. and Mexico.  If I were to actually give them one of the arrow heads like I have found in the past in Oklahoma that were used by the ancient Indians, they would just be too expensive, but these were small arrow heads, and they were recently made. They had never actually been on someone’s arrow or spear, but the art of making the arrow heads has been passed down, and they still make them. I went to Rinks and loaded up on Indian arrow heads. I could buy several because they were cheap, and they are uniquely American.

two people smiling
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com
woman wearing blue jacket sitting on chair near table reading books
Photo by George Dolgikh on Pexels.com
grayscale photography of person wearing cap sleeved top
Photo by Breston Kenya on Pexels.com

The African students had been very shy about talking to their teachers, but after that, they were with the rest of them in my office and at my house wanting to be friends and learning about America.  They had some very interesting an unique problems that needed sorted out.

photo of man and woman looking at laptop
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com
close up of red white and green country flag
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

In case you don’t recognize this flag, It is the Mexican flag. I had several Mexican students who were on the soccer team at the university who began coming to me after that because they needed help too and figured out I could help them.


I took the arrowheads back to the university and handed them out to all the students in the class.  The students were thrilled!  The little girl got her answer, and I became friends with all the students in that class, both Japanese and Korean. They were no longer too shy to talk to me.  After that, they all hung out in my office, came to my house to visit me, followed me to church, etc.  If they had trouble with their school, work, they never hesitated to talk to me about it.  I got calls from them when they didn’t understand their American teachers asking me to explain what the American teachers wanted.  I got calls from them when they were at the library because they were so confused by what they were doing they needed help. They came for extra tutoring sessions in English.  Even the American professors began calling me if they thought they weren’t getting through to their oriental students asking for my help.  The other international students saw what was happening, and they followed suit. If they needed help, my office and my house became a revolving door for the international students. They even called me when they got in trouble away from the school. I got calls from stranded students needing rides.  I got calls from students needing help to open a bank account or get a driver’s license.  None of them hesitated to call me, and I had a lot of fun making lots of friends.  The students responded in just the way that made my bosses extremely happy with me!  I was happy because I always loved my  students! In the end, one of the Japanese boys from that class married my my oldest daughter, and they are very happy together.  It all began with the correct response to the Japanese origami paper bird.

Leave a Reply