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Letter from Tokyo

Japanese gift-giving is governed by an alliance of commercial pressure and social obligation. It's better than novelty socks

By Matthew Green   January 2001

That my birthday falls on Christmas Eve accounts not only for many of my emotional scars but also for my bitterness towards the season itself. Tales of so-called “joint” (birthday-Christmas) presents from cheap relatives tend to elicit the expected pity from Europeans, yet Japanese friends are slower to commiserate. In Tokyo a Christmas birthday is considered romanchikku (romantic) rather than unfortunate.

In any case, Christmas presents are rarely exchanged in Japan, in spite of the skinny Santas infesting the streets of Tokyo. With Christians making up less than 1 per cent of Japan’s population, the holiday is free of the…

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