Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day in Japan!

I was doing some Japanese study today, entirely independent of my background research for this blogpost, and, coincidentally, one of the example sentences which my textbook provided was:

もし じぶんが おとこだったら、ばれんたいんでーには どんなきもちに なるだろうと おもいます。
If I were a man on Valentine’s Day, I wonder how I’d feel.

That’s because, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is the occasion on which women (and women alone) give gifts of chocolates to the significant men in their lives. Moreover, it seems that such gifts aren’t limited to those in whom the giver has a romantic interest – friends and co-workers alike will equally be eligible as recipients (though likely of a gift of lesser impression than that reserved for the captor of one’s heart!) Apparently this Japanese idiosyncracy stemmed from an innocent translation error in the original material promoting the occasion. That being so, there’s a separate holiday entirely – White Day, exactly one month later on March 14th – for men to return the favour of showering gifts upon their female companions. (Interestingly, before the establishment of “White Day”, a Japanese Marshmallow Company tried to pre-empt the matter by launching its own campaign in favour of a “Marshmallow Day” on March 14th…a move which, unsurprisingly, failed).

Whether intentional or not, splitting the holiday across two months makes perfect Japanese sense. Maintaining social relations through gift-giving is a big cultural phenomenon here, and I can imagine that, if both sexes were expected to give gifts today, there would be a lot of social awkwardness in the event that a Japanese person found themselves unexpectedly receiving a gift without having one at hand to return the favour. Splitting the holiday between the sexes, then, lets Japanese men, at least, know exactly who they’re indebted to come White Day. Phew. You can breathe a sigh of relief. SOCIAL HARMONY IS SAVED. (Of course, it’s the poor old Japanese women who still have to shoulder the burden of deciding who to give to in the first place… awkward).

So, today being set aside for men alone, there’s certainly more than a little truth to the unease expressed in the above sentence. I certainly know a lot of my ALT friends were bemoaning the fact that they left school for the day without having received any chocolates. I won’t lie, I certainly wasn’t immune from the hype – it wasn’t until a lunchtime delivery stuffed with chocolates arrived from my Board of Education that I could breathe a sigh of relief.  I wouldn’t be going home empty-handed. There were chocolates, bless them, from not only my supervisor, but some of my adult students too. And even a heart-warming little note! It was so nice that they’d made the effort to give me a present. So, for all the potential overhype, I’m not going to be the Valentine’s Day Grinch: Men, if you got chocolate today, be grateful and share the love! If you didn’t, remember the ones who show off their Valentine's booty the most are also the ones who need that kind of assurance the most, and don’t let it stop you from spreading a little love of your own (chocolate-y or otherwise!) in a month’s time!  

Of course, alongside all that sugary sweetness I also received an unwelcome "gift" from one of my 11-year-old female students today... namely, a ten-minute long quiz on exactly just how "tall" I was. And I'm not talking about my height. Now, who says romance is dead?

                       Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

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