It’s Valentine’s Day. As a grown man in Japan, I quite like it. I get girichoco – chocolate from girls who don’t fancy me, might not even like me that much, but give it to me because I am their teacher. Okay, so some of those givers are as young as five but here Valentine’s Day isn’t simply about telling your loved one how you feel. Rather it seems to be about girls giving chocolate to any male they know who doesn’t make them vomit. I never got many valentine cards as a child but I reap in the chocolate now and it makes me glad. None of them is even from my mum! I know this because the secrecy element isn’t part of the Japanese tradition. I can proudly display my chocolate heart and not have to worry about friends slagging me off because it’s obviously from my mum. ‘It’s not!’ I can say in complete certainty. ‘It’s from Yuko!’
‘Yes. You know Yuko. She was the fastest second grader at last year’s undoukai.’
In Japan, Valentines Day is a one way affair. Girls give to guys and that’s it. The payback, however, comes exactly a month later on White Day when men are supposed to give return gifts of cookies or chocolate to all the girls who treated them on Valentine’s Day. I can see the fairness, I suppose, but part of me doesn’t want to join in. With the kids it’s fine. I understand. But when you have to give tubby Tomoko with the face that would frighten a young child a White Day gift you feel kind of cheated. ‘I can see why you gave me a gift,’ you want to say, ‘But to be honest you were aiming a bit above your station. I’m giving you these chocolates because I have to.’
And where’s the romance in that?