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Gaijin Chronicles : Mikan and Japanese Gift Giving Etiquette

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/08 Food, Traditional Culture , ,

Early autumn of 2012, my friends and I went to Kuroisan Green Park in Setouchi-shi, Okayama for mikan harvesting.  Mikan, according to its Wikipedia entry, is a sweet,  seedless,  and easy-peeling citrus species about the size of mandarin oranges but smaller than an orange. For a fee of 700 yen, we were led to the orchard where we can harvest and eat mikan to our heart’s content.

Mikan

mikan

 

mikan3

mikan orchard

 

The mikan trees are relatively short and the fruits can easily be picked without needing special tools. Having some garden gloves would come in handy though you could do away with it entirely.

Kuroisan Green Park

We saw a lot of families  there. Mikan harvesting is definitely an activity the whole family can do together. Kindergarteners also arrived in busloads. Mikan harvesting or any other fruit harvesting is really popular among young school children. Other participants brought along picnic baskets with them and had lunch beside the trees.

When we went there it was the middle of the mikan harvest  season. Most of the trees near the foot paths were bare of fruits. One must go higher up or lower down a slope to get to those trees with fruits thus it is advisable to wear appropriate footwear because the slopes could get steep.

mikan4

mikan tree

By the entrance, we were also given a small plastic bag each to fill with mikan to take home. I ended up having more than enough so  I gave some of it to my Japanese sensei. During our next study session, she announced that aside  from the usual Kanji and vocabulary lessons, we will be having a special lesson on Japanese gift giving etiquette.

Japanese Gift Giving Etiquette

Uh-oh! A warning sign flashed in my head. Did I gave her spoiled mikans? But those were freshly picked. Were they sour? Did worms bore on it? —  I was frantically recalling what I did wrong to warrant “special” lessons.

And so apparently, it is is ill-advised in Japanese culture to give gifts with the numbers four or nine. Four (4) in Japanese is “shi” which is the same pronunciation for the Japanese word for death. Nine(9) is “ku” which is the same pronunciation for the Japanese word for suffering,  agony, or torture. Similarly, one should not give gifts in fours or nines.  I gave Sensei four mikans —  Such a major faux-pas. I was so embarrassed at my blunder that I was profusely asking for her forgiveness at the same time wishing to hide under the table. Sensei then reassured me that she didn’t really mind my mistake considering that I’m a gaijin(foreigner) and still unfamiliar with Japanese ways. She stressed though that I must be careful next time as I might give gifts to  people  who are not as understanding and forgiving.

Anyway, for those interested to go mikan harvesting, go to this link  for more information. Exact harvest dates changes from year to year but it usually starts around October. So better check their website for details around that time.

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