Even though the Japanese didn't invent the idea of exchanging gifts, they seem to be doing everything they can to convince themselves that they did. This is a culture, after all, that celebrates Christmas without Jesus, piles White Day on top of Valentine's Day, and has developed a whole species of cloth — furoshiki —for use chiefly as a means of wrapping presents.

And then there are the summer and wintertime rituals of o-chūgen and o-seibo, which see Japanese people bestowing gifts on family, friends and colleagues at the very times of year when such gestures will be most appreciated.

Foreigners may be familiar with o-chūgen and o-seibo from the seasonal displays of food and drink in supermarkets, department stores and convenience stores. The gift boxes contain everything from low-end pick-me-ups (canned coffee) to high-end treats (Kumamoto melons), and are distinguished by artful, courier-friendly packaging. In fact, the first few times I saw colorful arrays of senbei rice crackers and cushioned, travel-ready cases of Suntory Premium Malts beer at my local convenience store, I wanted to send some to myself.