The Art of Gift Giving

Posted on May 9th, by Joni Montgomery in Trading Cultures. 1 Comment

Gifts I have made


Metal tags I made to put on keychains.

Metal tags I made to put on keychains.

This week I have been exercising my mental and artistic skills. I have finally completely (and hopefully, accurately) memorized my self-introduction in Japanese! I plan on making LOTS of friends in Japan so I have been making loads of homemade gifts. I have been utilizing my hand sewing skills to make key fobs, blacksmithing skills to make key chains/charms and woodworking skills to make pens. I never do anything halfway and my hands are reflecting this trait. I have accidentally burned and stripped off my fingerprints from making these gifts. But hey, now I can leave the country and not leave any fingerprints along my path!


A few of my finished pens.

A few of my finished pens.

My dad is an amazing woodworker and has been teaching me how to make the pens. I am using mostly American wood to make them extra memorable to my Japanese friends! Simplified, the first step is cutting blocks of wood to the proper length of the two barrels. Holes are then drilled into the blocks and the brass barrels are glued in. Once the glue dries, the blocks of wood are mounted onto the lathe, which is a power tool that spins the blocks rapidly. Various chisels are used to cut the blocks down and round them into the shape of the pens. Once the basic shape is chiseled, a myriad of sandpapers are used to smooth the wood – starting with the coarsest paper and working down to the finest paper.

Once the pen shafts are silky smooth, a liquid polisher is used to finish the wood. It polishes and seals by the friction and heat of the spinning pen. After this, the pen parts are assembled using a tool to help slide the parts into place. Below is a video clip of my dad demonstrating how to properly use the lathe and chisels to cut the wood down into the final shape of the pen.

Some of my hand-sewn key fobs.

Some of my hand-sewn key fobs.


Before going to any country, it is very important to acquaint yourself with that country’s customs. According to my research, Japan is known as the “most prevalent gift-giving country” and there are many guidelines to follow when giving and receiving gifts. For instance, gifts should be given and received with two hands, using only one hand can be interpreted as unappreciative or rude. Also, gifts should be given at the end of an interaction – never at the beginning, which could be viewed as rushing the relationship.

Wrapping gifts in certain colors and certain color combinations have specific meanings and convey particular messages. Red is used for funerals and tombstones and it is best if avoided. Black also represents death or bad luck. Red and black together represents sexuality and should most definitely be avoided! The safest colors to wrap in are white or pastels such as yellow, purple, green and pink. From what I have learned, I personally will be wrapping my gifts in white or a nice non-offensive pastel!


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