Chapter 2.Winter: Gifts
"Tsubasa, What do you want from Takafu-cho? I will buy anything you like." Tsubasa was puzzled by his father's sudden offer. It had been years since he had received a present from his father. He had stopped believing in Santa Claus long ago. "What is this about? You don't have any obligation to buy me a present." "No, I don't, but I got an e-mail notice from Takafu-cho to balance the thanks-tickets I issued. Don't you remember those tickets you issued to RUICA?" "Yes, I do, but aren't the thanks-tickets local currency, which should be exchanged within the town?" Tsubasa asked.
Keigo explained how the tickets worked. Tsubasa's family had issued a total of 15 thanks-tickets during their stay in Takafu-cho. With the year end approaching, the town office sent e-mail to Keigo reminding him to balance his thanks-tickets. It was Christmas time, when presents and seasonal gifts are sent to loved ones. Basically, thanks-tickets were used for appreciation of voluntary work in the town. Twice a year, in summer and winter, people outside the town who had received fewer tickets than they had issued were advised by the town office to clear their balances. They could do this by giving the town a donation or buying the town's products as gifts or for personal use. This system helped the local economy to grow. If the sake, confectionery, and vegetables produced in the town were good, people issued thanks-tickets; and if they were encouraged to buy the products to give as presents, they surely would. Another way to balance thanks-tickets was to buy cash vouchers, which were usable in local restaurants and hot spring inns. The expiration date for the cash vouchers was set at six months, so that people could visit the places more than one time.
"Probably some people will ignore the notice, but most will make an attempt to buy all the products for which they issued thanks-tickets. This is the best way to sell products from such a small town to people all over the country and to increase regular visitors to the town. In this the way, they can repay the town for the good things it offered them," Keigo said.
"I see. So if one's tickets-account shows a negative balance, one has to buy things to make up the difference. Have there been any cases when people outside the town received more thanks-tickets from the voluntary works they did than the number they issued? What happened then?" Tsubasa asked.
"It might sometimes happen. Residents who could not use all the tickets they received could send the rest to their relatives who live elsewhere. I received 50 thanks-tickets from my father. So I can use these tickets as cash vouchers to buy local products. There is one condition, they must be sent as gifts to someone."
"You mean the tickets are only used for gifts?" Tsubasa asked again. "Yes, but remember that you can get a 30 percent discount if you buy more of the same products for cash. For example, when your mother used her thanks-tickets to buy Japanese-style sweets for her friend, she was able to buy more sweets at a 30 percent discount using cash."
Either way, non-residents who loved the town and had good memories of it bought the local products, whatever their thanks-tickets accounts balance. Five percent of the revenue from purchases made from the portal site went to the town's general fund, and the rest to individual shops. It was a good system that helped both the town and local industries to prosper.
Keigo had thought about what he should buy to balance the thanks-tickets he had issued, and for whom. He also had to decide what to buy with the tickets his father issued to him. It was a pleasant dilemma. At last he bought the town's chestnut sweets as seasonal gifts, and he bought hotel vouchers for Araki's family and himself. He planned to take Araki's family with him for a visit to his parents in Takafu-cho again this winter.
Tsubasa felt envious of his grandparents since they had moved to Takafu-cho. They appeared to lead fulfilling lives there every day. Grandfather had mastered the town's intranet; now his "Kohei's Japanese Sake Lecture" was posted on its portal site. He visited the town's brewery once a week to taste sake and reported on the variety of sakes currently available. At 74, he was studying hard to obtain certification as a sake sommelier. His grandmother had also visited all the Japanese-style confection stores in town and demonstrated her enthusiasm by developing her own recipes for sweets. They were much changed since they had left Tokyo.
Tsubasa remembered grandmother's excited voice when she called to talk about her new life. "Of course, not everyone in the town is a good person. Some people who are congenial towards visitors may give new residents the cold shoulder. I was not familiar with all the town's customs. At the year-end party, people had to perform something and we were worried. But Kohei-san and I sang a duet and they loved it."
Around the middle of December, snow began to fall in Takafu-cho. Tsubasa had not been around snow since his childhood. He was used to Tokyo winters, where clear days continued throughout the season. However, in winter in Takafu-cho, the Land of Trees sank into deep snow. Tsubasa remembered Kanalu and then Ryoko. It had been a long time since he had heard from them. He wanted to visit Takafu-cho and see both of them.
"Let's invite Takashi-kun to Takafu-cho," Tsubasa suggested. Tsubasa's father reacted with an expression that was hard to read. He nodded in agreement, but seemed anxious and unsure. "Father doesn't seem confident about dealing with Takashi," Tsubasa thought.