The Art of Gift-Giving: The Best Gift I Have Ever Received

The following is an article that I had posted on another blog I used to run. I have decided to repost it as I am holding the very gift in my hands right now 🙂

As I type this, I wrap my hands off and on around the most precious gift I have ever received.

It is a bone carving that a local Maori carver made especially for me.

To respect their tikanga i.e. Maori cultural protocols, I will not post the image of the carving, but the process of its creation was unimaginably warm and beautiful. In fact, I actually got teary when he finally gifted it to me.

The carver is one of my favourite customers at work. We have become good friends over two years or so. One day he dropped by my work and asked:

“Can I get your permission to carve something for you?”

“What do you mean? You don’t need MY permission”, I replied.

His answer was, “Yes, I do. I cannot carve without YOUR permission”.

The way he thinks was eye-opening and made me appreciate the great Maori tradition even more.

Of course, I said “YES, PLEASE!”, and the long journey began.

Every other week or so, he came in and told me about the progress. He said he was struggling a little because it was hard to encapsulate my life in the carving. Borrowing his own words, “your life is… so big” (thank you!).

He consulted me about every single detail of the work and each time asked me if I felt right about… everything.

There was more.

One morning he asked me how to draw an authentic samurai sword… I was baffled as it was such a random question. He then revealed me that he was considering making it a part of the design, honouring my family’s samurai warrior background. He said it would be the first time ever to include a non-Maori design in his art.

This touched me deeply and made me happy for the rest of the day. Even before receiving the gift!

When it was nearly done, he explained to me the meanings of each symbol used: the guardians, waves, and sword to symbolise my journey from Japan to New Zealand.

After half a year or so, the day arrived. He presented the carving to me and said, “It’s done”.

Both of us got teary. He is a kind of person who doesn’t like receiving too much appreciation, so he simply said, “It is all yours now.” and left.

I am half teary right now, just by imagining how much thought, effort, and love must have gone into this carving.

Being a selfish person by nature, I don’t think I can display the kind of love and generosity he has shown me. But this Art will be a constant reminder of how deeply a genuine gift can move a person for the rest of his/ her life and the generations to come.

Rakugoka (落語家) vs. Hanashika (噺家)

In Japanese, Rakugo (落語) means a story with a punchline, and Rakugo storytellers are called Rakugoka (落語家).

Another common way to call them is Hanashika (噺家), which simply means a storyteller. In my personal opinion, this expression captures what Rakugo performers do more accurately.

Even though Rakugo is almost always accepted as a form of comedy in Japan and also introduced overseas as such, Rakugo is not always funny. If you have ever listened to stories like “Shinkei Kasanegahuchi” (真景累ヶ淵), “Bunshichi Mottoi” (文七元結 ), or “Tachikiri” (立切り), you would understand this.

“Shinkei Kasanegahuchi” is a pure tragedy, a horror story with very little humour. “Bunshichi Mottoi” is a human drama that would make you cry (I cry every time I listen to it!). “Tachikiri” is a heartbreaking love story, which also brings you tears.

I do not think Rakugo would have received the same kind of popularity if it was just comedy.

It is an all inclusive storytelling art.

I really appreciate that the manga/ anime/ TV drama
“Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju” (昭和元禄落語心中) has captured this multifaceted nature of Rakugo rather well.

The beauty of the expression Hanashika (噺家) is that the kanji “噺” is used instead of “話”, which is the most common character to mean a story.

The character “噺” can be broken into “口” (mouth) and “新” (new), so as a whole it means uttering something new.

As a traditional art, the Rakugo World has faced two missions: one being to protect the tradition and the other being progressing it so that it will remain relevant for generations to come.

To me personally, the act of “uttering something new” captures what they do as performers of this traditional art.