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Tea Leaves

In Japan, giving gifts can mean giving problems

Annual largesse stimulates social networking but fails to help the needy

Fruit is a popular item to send to friends and acquaintances during Japan's oseibo gift-giving season. (Photo by Michiyo Nakamoto).

When the doorbell rang for the third time on a chilly day in early December, I had an inkling it would be the deliveryman with yet another package. After all, it was the annual winter gift-giving season known as oseibo in Japan.

Every year in December people send oseibo gifts to business associates, customers and, in some cases, friends, to thank them for their friendship that year. The practice has a summer equivalent in July, known as ochugen, and in both cases the gifts usually consist of consumables, particularly expensive foods, such as baskets of fancy fruit, marinated fish filets or nori (edible seaweed).

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