Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his son Shotaro Kishida, right, at the Cabinet Office on Dec. 26 (Koichi Ueda)

A story headlined “Gifts and Japanese,” which appeared in the Dec. 18, 1977, issue of The Asahi Shimbun, summarized the results of a study by anthropologist Harumi Befu (1930-2022).

According to Befu, Japanese routinely exchange 30 kinds of gifts every year, including birthday presents and the traditional “seibo” (year-end) and “chugen” (mid-year) gifts. They spend an everage of 4,000 yen ($31) per month, and travel souvenirs top their list of gift items.

Befu went on to comment on the Japanese corporate culture of gift-exchange among colleagues, offering an insightful analysis.

He noted to the effect, “Corporate Japan developed the gift-giving custom as a means for cultivating deep human relations that are necessary if employees of all ranks were to work together on any given undertaking.”

Forty-six years have passed since then, and now a scandal has just surfaced that can’t be simply dismissed as proof of the enduring Japanese love of souvenir gift-giving.

In the crosshairs, so to speak, is Shotaro Kishida, the 32-year-old eldest son and executive policy secretary of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The younger Kishida was found to have used an official car for souvenir shopping while accompanying his father on his visit to Europe and the United States earlier this month.

Sources close to the prime minister reportedly explained that souvenir shopping is one the duties of an executive secretary. But I’m not buying that.

At the time of Shotaro’s appointment to that post, nepotism was suspected, but the prime minister insisted his son was the “right person for the job.”

Does that mean his secretarial forte is his exceptional souvenir shopping skill?

If the purchases were meant as personal gifts for Diet members and others, he should not have used an official car, even if his father was paying for the gifts out of his own pocket.

One theory has it that the present custom of bringing home travel souvernirs originated from the times when communities saved up money to send their representaitves on trips, and the representatives brought back gifts for the community members.

If the prime minister wants to distribute the presents upon his return, the recipients should be none other than the entire Japanese population. And the presents should not be tea and sweets, but various policies aimed at improving the lives of the people and diplomatic achievements that will contribute to peace.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 28

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.