Archive | February, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

ImageIt’s Valentine’s Day in Japan!  Unlike in America, where boys are expected to get flowers/make date plans/buy gifts for their girlfriends (in the most heteronormative, gender-stereotyped version of the tradition, anyway), this means that all the girls in my school are going crazy with the thought of giving out chocolates to the boys they like.  That’s right, in Japan, on Valentine’s day, only girls are expected to make gestures of appreciation or affection to boys, usually through giving them expensive or homemade chocolate.  

ImageOr rather, there are two varieties of chocolate: “giri choco” (literally “obligation chocolate) and “honmei choco” (literally “true feeling chocolate”).  Girls and women give giri choco, usually inexpensive chocolate often bought in bulk, to their casual male acquaintances, coworkers, and friends as a gesture of appreciation for their help/friendship/etc.  However, they give honmei choco as a romantic gesture to their significant other, or to the boy for whom they have feelings.  The media has a field day with Valentine’s Day, and often advertises it as a chance for one to confess one’s true feelings for someone… of course, by buying the right expensive brand of chocolate or a variety of ingredients to make the perfect gift.  Yes, despite cultural differences, Valentine’s Day is by and large a consumer holiday in Japan, too.  

ImageBut, you might be thinking, it’s totally unfair that the girls have to do all this with no reward.  Luckily, in Japan, there’s White Day, one month after Valentine’s Day.  On March 14th, men give women cookies, other sweets, or small gifts to repay them for the chocolate they received on Valentine’s Day.  

As for me, however, I was not getting mixed up in all of that chocolate-giving without any idea what is or isn’t appropriate for my work setting and what have you.  However, I really wanted to make chocolate, so I decided to throw a little party for my close (female) friends, instead.  I’m sure a rulebreaker, I know.  However, I got to make the cutest chocolates ever thanks to everything in Japan being absolutely adorable, and my friends seemed to enjoy them, so that’s what matters, right?  


“Wow, you can speak Japanese really well!”

5 Feb

ImageThis past weekend, S and I decided to take a weekend trip to Tokyo.  This isn’t out of the ordinary in any way, and nothing (besides the two pairs of shoes I bought, yay) about it is really worth mention… except for a particularly amusing exchange I had in a makeup shop with the shopkeeper there.  

A little background information: Japanese shopkeepers are hugely attentive to their customers.  In clothing boutiques, in my experience, shopkeepers will often hang around to admire the clothes you try on and say that they suit you, or to find other items to match your outfit.  In makeup stores, it’s much the same; they offer you various tools with which to sample the products and suggest things that they think will suit your style or your skin tone.  

In this particular makeup store, S and I were checking out some glittery nail polish when the shopkeeper came up to offer us slips of cardboard on which to test the products and to tell us about the line of nail polish.  When she picked up a particular shade, a commented that actually, I had already bought it, and was wearing it at the moment, as well as another colour of nail polish also sold from that makeup brand.  The shopkeeper was really shocked, and responded, “Wow, you can actually speak Japanese really well!”  

ImageThis isn’t the first time I’ve had this reaction.  When I respond to Japanese shop keepers with anything more than nodding and “thank you,” they often are shocked to discover that I’m capable of making conversation in Japanese.  I suppose it’s surprising with the number of foreign tourists in Tokyo (and particularly in Harajuku, where this particular shop was located), but it’s always a little amusing to receive this comment, nonetheless.  It also always inevitably leads to the conversation about how long I’ve studied Japanese, where I’m living, what I’m doing, etc.  

Eventually, we got back to the topic of nail polish, and after complimenting my Japanese abilities, she also complimented my nails, and even noticed that I had planned it so that they matched my sweater.  Very few people notice these intricacies in my outfits, so I was really pleased.  All in all, it was a funny but positive experience… and I’m always glad when someone seems to actually mean it when they tell me I’m good at Japanese, rather than the common reaction of “You’re so good!” when I so much as say “hello” in Japanese.  I always knew I liked that makeup store, but this definitely added to its good points!