Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's the Special Gifts....

I have really mixed feelings around Christmas time. The whole season gets kinda, well, stressful for me. Lavie might call my demeanor something a little less choice.

I love the idea of the holiday season; the contrast between warmth inside and cool outsides, visiting with friends and family, thinking of the perfect gifts to give my family members, the rich food menus. But those are the same things that add a bit of stress to the mix. And work is usually more pressure filled as well due to staff taking off so we have less coverage on the response desks.

Every Christmas Eve our family gathers around and reads a few Christmas stories before bed. Lavie usually reads "The Small One" and I read "The Gift of the Magi." I really like the theme in both that giving from the heart is what counts most...not the size but the appropriateness of the gift chosen.

Alvis got showered (as only children often are) with music, manga, and DVD's, a PS2 game and about a bazillion things "Disney's High School Musical" related.

Alvis and Lavie picked up some manga and anime for me (yeah!) as well as my most favorite gift of all, a small golden box filled with Godiva chocolates. I don't know why, but that was the best gift ever!

Alvis and I gifted Lavie with a bit of jewelry and more manga. I also finally got her the "Sad Girl in Snow" throw that I've been wanting for her from MegaTokyo.

But the gift of honor this year was Lavie's tea-set. Direct from Japan.

Honored GSD visitor Harmon suggested I try looking into the products offered by Japanese Green Tea Hibiki-an, a small family-run tea leaf farm in the Kyoto area. Harmon seemed pretty enthusiastic and their product selection (including the tea sets) were very well put together. Lavie collects tea sets and likes the simply beauty of Japanese items, so it seemed a "perfect gift".

This would be my first "overseas" I was a bit nervous...especially this close to the holiday season...but I just had to do it.

I picked out a tea set and placed my order. Within an hour I had received a confirmation email and again when it was shipped the following day. Hibiki-an suggests that delivery timeframe's are usually within a few weeks tops...except if customs has an issue. So I was hopeful it would make it in.

Imagine my surprise when less than a week from Kyoto the neatly wrapped parcel was in my postal box. Wow! The outer shipping wrapping was nicely done and the customs shipping label was on it in Japanese characters. I really wanted to open it to inspect it, but knew Lavie would be even more I left it "as is" and wrapped it up again in the holiday paper.

When Lavie unwrapped it she was amazed and confused by the customs label and the Japanese return address sticker. Once she got the overwrap off, inside was a delicately wrapped box with a beautiful craft element--kinda like a "bow" but amazingly better. Inside were her teacups, neatly wrapped cloth coasters, a serving teapot, a tea-storage tin, and a bag of the freshest green-tea we had ever seen. The aroma was amazing.

Lavie was stunned (as were we!). It was simple, beautiful and perfect. She carried it to all the relatives places as we made our Christmas Day rounds and it was the centerpiece at each stop.

I did good. (Thanks Harmon!)

So to the dear folks at Japanese Green Tea Hibiki-an--blessings! Service and quality was amazing and the product couldn't be better. More orders from Texas are guaranteed to follow in the new year!

Japanese manners and service is something that I don't think most Americans can relate to. I make it a point to provide the best customer service on the job to my "customers" and try to treat the service-workers we come into contact with with respect and appreciation...but Japan does indeed seem to strive to take it to the next level.

Mike and Nicki over at the Japan Years blog recently posted about a customer service experience overseas in Japan. Where else in Japan could you order a concert ticket and get it delivered the same day, with two delivery attempts to the customer finalizing at 8:00pm and find the ticket was bubble-wrapped? Man we got a thing to learn.

Heck. What kind of country tasks it's Ministry of Environment with publishing a guide for its citizens on how to fold and carry items in a Furoshiki?

I submit to you: How to use Furoshiki [Japanese Ministry of Environment] (FYI--with a little bit of patience and modification, these can be used to make some awesome alternative gift wrappings next Christmas.

Or the story when Sushi-cam Jeff lost his wallet in Japan--full of cash--and how he got it back. Amazing.

Just goes to show truly is the smallest things that can bring the biggest joy...when served properly.



Michael said...

Claus - thanks so much for mentioning me in your post! I'm glad my recommendation turned out well for you (and Lavie, of course). Did Atsushi include any origami in your package as a special gift? Sounds like he has improved getting shipments through the customs process, too.


Claus said... origami but the craft-bow (?) on the package was stunningly well made.

We got a couple of guide-sheets on how to brew the tea, care for the set, etc. in both Japanese and English. There was a postcard as well.

It was a great ordering experience and I won't hesitate to re-order again!