A family member passed away recently. Since we’re Japanese, members of the extended family gave us koden—gifts of money to help with the cost of the funeral.
An excellent article on how this is practiced in Japan is in this blog post I happened to find.
The ritual practices described in that post are not really done here in America. Surprisingly, stamps are involved.
Not really the stamp that was used, but I like it
Here in America, relatives use normal sympathy cards, and we prepare very ordinary-looking thank you cards in return. As was noted in the post linked to above, a small gift is given in return for the koden. This accidentally led to an argument over the phone.
ME: We’ll need X amount of stamps for the thank you cards.
OTHER PERSON: Okay, I’ll get X books of stamps.
ME: No, just X amount of stamps.
OTHER PERSON: So I’ll get X books of stamps from the post office.
ME: Why would you get entire books of stamps? You just need X stamps to mail out the cards!
This went on for a while. Then, because of my limited knowledge of koden, I was able to make a guess.
ME: You mean you give out a book of stamps to each person who gave koden?
OTHER PERSON: Yes. Some people give half a book of stamps. I give a whole book.
So apparently giving out a book of stamps (or half a book) is a normal gift in return for koden money among Japanese-Americans. I’m not sure to what extent the koden tradition will continue in my generation, but the gifts back will be equally American in nature.