Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Penny pinching

This may not be an interesting post but I thought I'd show you some of the "presents" we have around the house and once again prove to you that I do not understand Japanese culture.

All of these boxes have come from funerals or memorial services in the past few weeks. My goodness, Tanya must know a lot of people who have died! Well, that's not really true. Tetsu works for a convalescent home and he must go to various funerals during the year. The custom in Japan is when there is a funeral is that all the mourners will arrive with envelopes of money and in return they are given a bag that usually has a small bottle of sake (Japanese alcohol), a box of tea or seaweed and a small packet of salt. The salt is for purification and once arriving home after the service, the packet will be opened and the salt tossed around so that evil spirits won't follow you into the house. (This is my rough critique). The sake must have some purification meaning too and I find it handy to use in my cooking. I don't know why tea and seaweed play an important part of the gift giving.

Here's where I'm going to show my miserly side. Forgive me. When Tetsu brought back his bag of things a couple of weeks ago, I asked him if he was taking it back to the office since the person who had passed on wasn't a personal acquaintance. No. He had enclosed money from himself, not from the convalescent home. I did not say but thought,

"What! You have to give $50 to $100 every time you go to one of the convalescent home funerals? What is this going to do to our budget?"

Actually, this is an old situation and I've learned not to ask. It just makes me grumble. (I remember someone telling me in my early days of marriage that there were some things that it was just better not to ask about. I can think of numerous situations in my marriage that I knew if I delved into it further it could result in a major battle.) I do not need to know how much money Tetsu uses for "funeral expense." Anyway, Tetsu has gone to a couple of funerals this month.

This weekend we were invited to a memorial service for someone who had passed away last December. Of course there had been a funeral then and of course we followed the customs of giving money. I am not grumbling about that! This is the way it is done in Japan and we budget accordingly. For the memorial service the Buddhist priest attends and the altar is displayed much like it had been last year. After all the chanting, the family and friends are invited to a luncheon in honor of the person who has passed on. But of course, invited means that more money is enclosed and more presents are given. I politely bowed out of this service though the family repeatedly asked both Tetsu and me to attend. I really didn't think we could afford both of us going to the luncheon! As it was, Tetsu was checking the Internet about the proper amount of money to enclose for the memorial service and made a decision (we are not family or long time friends, close neighbor friends) about the amount. On top of that Tetsu really didn't really want to go at all. He wouldn't know many of the people attending, a lot of drinking is involved and Tetsu doesn't drink, Tetsu isn't very good at chit-chatting. But of course one of us had to attend and I was adamant that it wasn't going to be me.

To make a long story short Tetsu came back with his bag and was bemoaning the fact that he really should have enclosed more money. It was a very elaborate affair with a huge feast provided and of course a very large box as a gift.

"I shouldn't have been so stingy."

"Tetsu, this is ridiculous! If you don't go you insult the family. If you do go then it's painful on the pocketbook. Realistically, there are other things we need to spend our money on. And besides, if you're going to go at all, you should have gone with a loving heart."

"Then YOU should have gone!"

I think maybe except for the immediate family, a lot of social obligation goes along with this custom. Who except the Buddhist priest and the restaurant won in this situation? The family had to arrange a luncheon and gifts for 30 or more people and according to Tetsu it must have cost a wallop. The people going enclosed very large amounts of money. If any of them are like us, it is not really an amount they can afford. But I suppose the immediate family was happy that so many people attended and remembered the deceased in a rather joyful way instead of with all the tears that were abundant last year.

For the rest of the year you can be sure I'll be pinching pennies! Or pinching yen!


Kieny said...

We have the same customs in Taiwan. Whenever we are invited to a funeral or wedding we have to bring our envelop with money. A lot of my husbands graduate students get married during their years in university so it can be quite expensive for us. I only join him when I know the people. One of the gifts they give here to all the mourners after the funeral service is a towel!

Quilt Pixie said...

Many social customs are hard on the pocketbook regardless of where you live... In this part of Canada, a bride and groom have something called a social before their wedding -- this is a big dance party that tickets are sold to go to, and liquor is sold at-- all in an effort to raise the money to pay for an elaborate wedding. It is rude not to buy a ticket, even if you're not going to be able to go.

Everyone must contribute towards baby showers of co workers, friends, family, and the children and grandchildren of friends... a similar range of people must have wedding shower and wedding gifts bought for them... Funerals are slightly different -- requiring flowers, cards and/or food for the family... It might not be cash, but at the end of the day it works out to something very similar! :-)

Mary said...

Isn't it nice when you reach that point in a marriage where you choose not to fight about something? Not the money or the quilting stuff laid out in the upstairs rooms.

I was telling Keith the other day how nice it is not to be fighting about the things we used to fight about. I think we're just more tolerant these days. I didn't even fuss at him when he emailed me today and told me he got a speeding ticket in Denver. I'm always telling him to slow down!! Luckily he doesn't drive that much anymore since he walks to work so at least there are fewer tickets these days.

anne bebbington said...

There's an old saying 'Discretion is the better part of valour' that my Nan used to say and I always took it to mean that keeping quiet is better than arguing as I'm sure that's the way she meant it - there is a lot to be said for avoiding an argument but sometimes important issues just have to be aired. It must be hard on a fixed/tight income to have to keep contributing to expected traditions just to keep up appearances - I think I would struggle to fit into the Japanese way of thinking - I take my hat off to you for adapting Tanya

The Calico Cat said...

Are weddings similar? I have been expressly told to give cash (& I was also told an appropriate amount.) I will do this because the bride is my husband's step sister... But her dad is paying for the wedding & the couple went on an elaborate vacation last summer... Seems to me like they don't need my cash.

Luckily we don't get invited to a lot of weddings. We definately can't afford it. My in-laws go to a lot of weddings - it is a good thig that they can afford it, but in the long run i think if you get $500 to the daughter of your friend & he gives $500 to your daughter - isn't it all a wash? (Yes, that is the kind of cash that we have been instructed to give. I am a civil servant & my husband work for a university... We are not Doctors & Lawyers.)

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

Again, a most interesting cultural post! I didn't know about this custom in Japan. What is the money used for? Is it to purchase items for memorializing the individual or is it to help the immediate family with expenses?

Lynn said...

It's especially bad if I'm a student, which I am! So many of my friends are getting married, and it really depletes the bank account.

But sometimes I find that if I make a handknitted or handsewn gift, and if they know I'm a student, they are all right with my gift. I feel embarrassed though about my poverty...! Lynn

teodo said...

Interesting post........in each country there are different traditions and this one is really weird.

In Italy when a parent or a friend dies people collect money that will be given for charity to an association chosen by the family.

ciao, ciao

Quilting Journey said...

Fascinating, Tanya! I am complete intrigued by social customs, especially ones involving rites of passage. I have incorporated many symbolic practices in my own life and love finding similarities with others. I found this entire post very, very interesting and got a chuckle out of it in comparison to the marshmallow bobbing in the flour. I am still looking for the symbolism in that one! Do you know if it symbolically has anything to do with with spirits...since you certainly came up looking like a ghost!

andsewitis Holly said...

I absolutely love your when-oh-when quilt! It's looking great. I have blocks and things all over my floors and my husband has learned to live with it, too. I told him when he retires he doesn't have to have a "man-cave" because I already have a "she-cave". He can have the rest of the house :) We'll stay out of each other's hair.

I also found this penny pinching post very interesting. I had never heard of that custom.

Shelina said...

When I was working in the office, it was getting expensive - the birthdays, baby gifts, condolescences, weddings, retirement, etc. And then there were the fundraising for schools. I don't know what the expected amount was, but I decided I would look at my budget rather than conventions, and give a little to all. I did hear on the radio that a graduation gift from a close person should be $100, but Sushi got less than $100 from everyone, including her mother.
Whoever makes up the rules is giving unrealistic information - like telling you to change your oil or your toothbrush or mascara more often, just so you can go buy some more.