According to the Greeting Card Association, a source I know we all can agree to trust, 80% of Valentine's Day gifts worldwide are bought by women. In Japan, that figure rises to 100%, because here it is solely a day for women to give chocolates to men. Not just the men in their lives in the sense of the man they love, but quite literally "the men in their lives." This means friends, teachers, and even co-workers. So, Valentine's Day in Japan is even more of a crazy commercially manipulated holiday than in the US, even more divorced from any tradition or meaning than in the Western world, and yet somehow also even more necessary to participate in. In fact, the giving of chocolate here is so compulsory that there is even a name for that given out of necessity and not affection, 義理 (giri) or "duty" chocolate. The week before the big day therefore, the ghost of the (largely apocryphal) Saint Valentine arrives early to vomit his gaudy wares all over every damn store in the country, from department stores to 7-11's to drink stalls on train platforms.
Usually I try to ignore Valentine's Day and then wait for it on the day to pass engaged in some totally unrelated activity, but this year I was both able to avoid it as a harbinger of loneliness - safe in the knowledge that I have a girlfriend this time for once - as well as enjoy another occasion for attention. Also, I didn't have to do anything myself, which is always nice.
I arrived at school that day to find a box of chocolate on my desk, which I was told was from the female English teachers. This got me really excited, because that means it was giri chocolate. This was amusing to me that they feel they have to give me chocolate, and also oddly pleasing since it means I am enough a part of the social fabric of the school for the other teachers to have a sense of duty towards me. I kept trying to get one of the teachers to admit she had to give me this entirely out of a sense of obligation, as that made it perversely more valueable to me.
The week before in English club I had introduced standard Valentine's vocabulary like "Be My Valentine", "Happy Valentine's Day!", and then watched the episode of the Simpsons where Ralph falls in love with Lisa on Valentine's to introduce "I Choo choose you!" The kids then made Valentines for each other. The next week they exchanged their cards. Surprisingly, I actually got some really nice ones from the girls in the club too, including a ridiculously labor-intensive one from a girl with a crush on me that must have taken an hour to craft, and another from the girl who has so much scorn for me that she couldn't be bothered to write my name correctly, wishing a "Happy Valentine's Day to Adamy." Whatever, she's fat.
The other teacher supervising the club, D'Angelo Sensei also got a great card from the greatest kid Kenji "KMK/King of Kurimura/Kuri-chan" Kurimura. Translated, it reads:
Dear Mrs. D'Angelo,
Good Afternoon! Hmm...I don't really know what to write here...We only meet once a week for club, but please keep up the good work next year too!
P.S. So...how did those candles and candies I gave you the other day work out?
Okay! Anyways, thanks a lot,
With all my love,
KMK is referencing Christmas time at our Secret Santa party, at which time he gave the teacher scented candles and a bag of aphrodisiac candies, ("A gift for you and your husband," he said with a wink) which at the time made her flush with too much embarrassment to yell at him. The note had basically the same effect. And just like that time, this time too I laughed really hard and told KMK he was a great kid.
After school Maiko came and we had a nice dinner together and then shared a bottle of wine. I got a very nice card and a delicious box of chocolate from her too. Unfortunately, playing into the Japanese style of Valentine's Day means I have to return the favor on "White Day" a new holiday domestically manufactured in Japan and held a month later in March, giving gifts back to all the women from whom I received the same.
Fortunately, as a product of Japan it is subject to the restrictions of the country, which means that as I man I don't really have to do anything for anyone else if I don't feel like it.