What should I give my temporary neighbor as a going-away present?
March 19, 2014 1:22 PM   Subscribe

My landlord has been subletting his apartment to an elderly Japanese woman for a couple months, and I've been acting as sort of a superintendent while the landlord's away, helping her out with navigating the language barrier, our building's eccentricities, and other issues that would normally be brought to the landlord. When she moved in she brought me a lovely gift of Japanese rice crackers, and during the time she's been here she's brought me a few other small gifts (fruits from the farmer's market, pastries from a local bakery), presumably in thanks for my help. She is incredibly sweet and I've enjoyed interacting with her, and I'd like to get her a small gift when she leaves next month. But I'm at a loss for what! I'm thinking something non-perishable she can take back with her, but alcohol doesn't seem appropriate, and I'm not sure about chocolate, either, which is my usual go-to after booze. Any ideas? We're in Berkeley, CA if that helps.
posted by rhiannonstone to Shopping (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like being Japanese and a more elderly woman, it's possible that she might appreciate something more durable and decorational as a gift, even if something small. A decoration piece related to California to remember her time by might be appropriate. Something like one of those decorational plates, or snow globe of a Cali monument.
posted by cacao at 1:25 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about a small photograph and/or painting from some landmark or part of the city you know she spends a lot of time in?

You could have it framed and either include a little plaque on it with an engraved message from you or you could place a handwritten note in the frame to make it part of the picture.
posted by zizzle at 1:26 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Michael Michaud makes California poppy jewellery.
posted by brujita at 1:36 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about a silk scarf? That's about as lightweight and non-breakable as you can get.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:48 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think a scarf is a lovely idea. How about something like this? Not too expensive but very pretty and lots of colours to choose from.
posted by essexjan at 2:06 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's also this one, which has Californian poppies on it.
posted by essexjan at 2:08 PM on March 19, 2014

I feel like being Japanese and a more elderly woman, it's possible that she might appreciate something more durable and decorational as a gift, even if something small.

I actually disagree with this, and think your original idea to go for a foodstuff is the right direction. Japanese typically give foodstuffs as gifts, as lacking the large living spaces of westernised houses, they don't have a lot of room for knick knacks (hence the two hundred dollar musk melons etc). Other things you could consider are some candles, baths stuffs etc. A nice jam, perhaps.
posted by smoke at 2:10 PM on March 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

Also Japanese give/receive a _lot_ of gifts normally (omiyage) [which is probably another reason she has given you several gifts, gift-giving is way more common/expected in Japan than here]. From my experience, regional food is a big one (especially if someone is travelling), so local food or other consumables (bath stuff, etc as smoke suggests) could be good.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:22 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would say not food, unless you're sure it can make it through customs (or you think she'd eat it before she leaves). The Gardener on Fourth Street has some really nice things--I can't remember which are locally or US-made, but I'm sure some of them. Definitely some small things as well. Nice bath products, little wooden bowls, etc.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:37 PM on March 19, 2014

Japanese-American here. Gift-giving/omiyage is very, very much a thing in Japanese culture, and consumables are definitely the way to go. When visiting family in Japan, we've usually got an entire suitcase dedicated to chocolates, nuts, and beef jerky to bring as presents. Typically "American" candy, like peanut butter cups, is often super-duper fascinating, although it's never clear to me if people actually enjoy it. Non-consumables that have also gone over well are fancy bath products and nice reusable bags. I would avoid cheap knickknacks.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:51 PM on March 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would buy a single perfect bud vase from Heath Ceramics. They come in beautiful colors, are made in the Bay Area, and don't take up much room. They look as beautiful empty as they do with a sprig of greenery or a few flower stems. The shape is very pleasing and the texture is beautiful. It is $23 and worth every penny. They have a store at the Ferry Building if that's convenient for you.
posted by barnone at 3:01 PM on March 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

Echoing smoke and Diagonalize that edibles are probably the best way to go. I'm Asian, though not Japanese, and my family sticks to edible gifts because they're least likely to cause any awkwardness or discomfort for the recipient. Chocolate is a great idea, actually, since there are so many indie chocolate makers in the Bay Area.

On preview, I do like the Heath Ceramics bud vase idea!
posted by peripathetic at 3:08 PM on March 19, 2014

I would do fancy chocolates/candies from a local source (the Ferry Building has various good options), or a fancy local jam (again, the Ferry Building is a good source, or Frog Hollow is usually at the Berkeley Farmer's Market on Saturdays).
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:26 PM on March 19, 2014

That vase is lovely and I'd love one for myself, but I agree with those who are saying stick with foodstuffs in this case. FWIW, there's even a word for this concept, kiemono, literal translation meaning "things that disappear" in Japanese slang. Local and high-end chocolates, jam, cookies, that sort of thing sounds great. Depending on where she's going (back to Japan? Where in Japan?), a lot of mainstream American commercial foods can be bought here fairly easily.
posted by misozaki at 4:40 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, gift giving/gratitude/consideration is much more common in social and neighborly interactions in Japan than here. I agree with the suggestion to give something edible as that is very common in Japanese culture, just make sure whatever it is, it's of very high quality since that's always the case in Japanese gift(food) giving. I'm not so sure about bath stuff, if you're thinking of things that actually go in bath water. If she has a traditional Japanese bath then the water stays in it for days (you bathe before you enter the bath), so you generally don't put anything in the water (at least that's always how it was at my grandmothers house). Also, if you give something edible the Japanese palate generally likes "sweets" much less sweet than americans do. I'm the same way, and my mom is totally like this. We both think brownies and a lot of other American desserts are way too sweet for example. French or French inspired sweets ( like Madelines) would be a good choice as French pastries are very popular in Japan and have a long history there (when they eat "western" sweets they're usually pretty French).
posted by Blitz at 4:57 PM on March 19, 2014

I agree with everyone who says food stuff, and as a reference point in Japan there are regional food specialties and that is usually the go to gift when gifting. So I would do some food item that is quintessentially from your area. The other gift that I have received both when I lived in Japan and now that I host exchange students, are handy crafts- different hand made items- maybe there is a local crafter you can think of? And finally, I have found that photos are always appreciated- a photo of your house? Or of the 2 of you together?
posted by momochan at 5:38 PM on March 19, 2014

I think Bay Area-made chocolate is a great idea. In particular, something with individually wrapped pieces (like TCHO's samplers). That way she can share it if she's not fond of chocolate herself.
posted by wintersweet at 5:54 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

A special bag of Peets coffee could be part of your gift. Local to Berkeley and I love it. Perhaps with a single, ceramic mug to go with it. I think there's a lady in the hills that runs a shop out of her home. Or from the Berkeley Potters Guild on Jones.

But my parents lived in Japan for ten years and little, perfect, edible gifts are what is often exchanged in these instances.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 PM on March 19, 2014

Make sure it's beautifully wrapped! It's definitely part of it; presentation is huuuuuge.
I lived in Japan and Yes = consumables. I think a selection of uniquely flavoured macaroons would be a hit, maybe really lovely body lotion or soap?

This is largely about the gesture. If you give her a bunch of peanut-butter cups and her grandkids eat them all, it's still all good. The gift of having candy on hand!
posted by jrobin276 at 6:34 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Well if you're in Berkeley, go with Chocolatier Blue for sure. They make exquisite chocolates.
posted by gt2 at 10:35 PM on March 19, 2014

Nthing suggestions for local food items. Recchiuti chocolates has a shop in the ferry plaza building and makes a variety of nice box sets, some of which have interesting flavours. I used to bring them as gifts for people when travelling overseas.
posted by milkcrateman at 11:39 PM on March 19, 2014

A friend craves the dried cranberries like she got from Safeway when she lived in California -- such are apparently unavailable in Kyoto. Another friend has a standing order for boxes of Cheerios and Cap'n Crunch, whenever her stateside pals visit Tokyo (although I hear those cereals are available in Japan). But as stated upthread, individually wrapped, local foodstuffs would be most appreciated.
posted by Rash at 9:34 AM on March 20, 2014

Does she have any kids or grandkids? Has she told you anything about them? Getting candy for the grandkids, especially candy difficult to buy in Asia, would be a nice gesture. Nuts (like pistachios) make a more adult alternative to candy.

I have a middle-aged Korean friend with a young niece, and my East Asian mom has been meaning to buy the niece a nice summer dress as a token of appreciation for the family's guiding me through South Korea two years ago. Giving something to the whole family can be really appreciated.

If you want to get to know her better, taking her out for a meal just before she leaves would be a great option too.
posted by myntu at 4:55 PM on March 26, 2014

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