Thursday, February 17, 2005

Chocolate & Swords

Valentine’s Day here in Japan, like many other aspects of life here, is a gender segregated activity. Instead of girls and boys freely exchanging gifts and cards and candy hearts, Valentine's Day in Japan is a holiday for the girls to spoil the boys. All the gift giving is a one-way street, from the girls to the boys. And it’s mostly chocolate - they don’t exchange cards here. So I arrived at my Jr. High on Monday morning armed with three boxes of American-made valentines cards - the kind you give to your classmates in elementary school - and a bunch of Hershey miniatures my sister sent me from America. I planned on teaching a lesson of sorts about the holiday in America and then handing out the chocolate and cards to my elective English class 3rd period. But the female Jr. High students were raring to go Monday morning and shortly after the morning staff meeting at 8:10am, a pack of 9th grade girls invaded the staff room and started handing out little gift bags of chocolates to their favorite male teachers. I was the lucky recipient of a few bags myself, and I was surprised to find that many of the bags contained homemade cookies and brownies - some real effort had gone into the preparation and packaging.

I was curious why only the girls had to go to so much trouble, but I was quickly informed that the boys have to reciprocate in about a month on March 15th - known as “White Day.” On White Day, it’s the boys’ turn to give the girls little gifts, mostly white chocolate, hence the holiday’s name. This is totally what we’d call a “Hallmark Holiday” back home - a holiday invented by the card companies purely to sell more cards, or in this case chocolate. So I guess I’ll be expected to ante up some white chocolate treats in a month, even though I gave my chocolate miniatures to both girls and boys on Monday.

I’ve included a pic of my haul of goodies, altho the pic is missing a few treats I ate as the day went along. Everything was oishi desu nee (very delicious). It seemed that mostly the 9th grade girls participated, but I was accosted by a swarm of ichi-nen-sei (7th grade) girls on the way to Kendo practice. They wanted to give me a chocolate goodie, and I accepted graciously, bowing and saying Arigatoo Gozaimasu. They all giggled and ran off, happy that they had forged the muddy waters of international relations and bridged the culture gap. Or maybe they just had some leftover chocolate they wanted to unload.

Speaking of kendo renshuu (practice), I am nearing my debut in full regalia. I decided to pay for my own kendo clothes - my own special shirt top, called a doge and my own special pants, called hakama. I think it’s gonna run me somewhere around $150-$200 for both, mostly because they have to special order my doge to get a big enough size and they’re gonna embroider my hakama with my name in katakana (the Japanese alphabet used for words of foreign origin) and the kanji for Taisha Chuugakkoo. Pretty cool. I’ve been working out with Hitoshi, the really great ni-nen-sei student who speaks really good English, due to the fact that he lived in Pennsylvania for three years when he was in elementary school. He helps me out all the time, and having him on the kendo team has been essential. I’ll be sure to take a few pics when I have the whole outfit on - all the clothes and my helmet (“man”), chest armor (“doo”), gloves (“kotei”), and sword (“shinai”). I’ll be a fearsome sight, let me tell ya.

But I’m a wimp when I play, mostly because I can’t get used to hitting another human being with a big stick, especially kids who are 20 years younger than me and who I outweigh by at least 60 kgs. Maybe that will change as I start to take part in regular practice and the other team members get to whack me around, but for now I’m still very tentative. The footwork is the hardest part for me right now, with very specific moves required to score points and be in good form. I’m trying, but it’s slow going. I’ve included some pics of my kendo team at practice, but they turned out rather dark - I think I’ll have to wait to a warmer and sunnier day when we have the dojo doors open so I’ll have more light when I take the pictures. Anyway, you can get some idea of what a kendo student looks like all suited up and in action. I’m enjoying my time with the team and practice is physically demanding, so it helps keep me in shape.


No comments: