cupid’s poison arrow

February 15, 2011

Dunno if anybody ever told you, but Valentine’s Day in Japan is arse-backwards. Of course, the time-honoured tradition involves pimply teenaged dudes trying to woo girls that are way out of their league by buying them gifts, flowers, or serenading (and creeping the utter hell out of) them with an acoustic guitar from their front lawn (I guess they are just hoping for some Rapunzel-type moment, but I’ve only ever met one girl with hair that long, and I sure wouldn’t want to serenade her, nor would I want to repel up the side of her house by holding onto her hideous rat-tail lock of hair, and without doing that how the hell else do these guys expect to actually get into these girls ‘ bedrooms without having a full-frontal collision with an irate father?), but all of that is not without a certain awkward and charming romance.

Yes, dear readers, Valentine’s Day here in Japan is sadly little more than another way to reinforce an embarrassingly outdated social hierarchy and (like almost everything else) utterly void of any real emotion. Giggling girls exchange tacky trinkets instead of ┬áreceiving charmingly misspelled love letters, and repressed female members of staff are constantly reminded of their status as doting and passive sex-objects by being expected to ‘gift upwards’ to their male co-workers, who (naturally!) all enjoy a higher social status than they do. Females are expected to give gifts to males on Valentine’s Day, while the males sit back, relax, smoke their cigarettes, play slot machines and daydream about other ways in which they could slow down the country’s birth rate.

Sweet, sweet guilt.


I know this is true, because when I came to work this morning and found chocolates on my desk from the beautiful young Japanese teacher who sits opposite me, my male co-worker actually joked about the chocolates being from him as he gorged himself on his own bounty. I felt so guilty, and I don’t even want to eat these things because of it. But how can I repay the favour without a) going against the grain of my adopted society, or worse, b) looking like a smitten fool? Is there any way to show your appreciation for women, not just in Japan but in any society, without a sexual or at least a romantic connotation? I’ve heard stories about extremist vigilante feminists who don’t like having doors held open for them.

Let’s be honest, part of the fun of Valentine’s Day, and the romantic world in general, is the gamble that you take every time you put your heart on the line in front of somebody. Where would the fun be if we were guaranteed success every time we asked somebody out? It’s a delicate interplay of emotions, appetites and manipulative skill that dictates the outcome of even the most vaguely romantic social interaction.I’m pretty sure Valentine’s Day would give even Christmas a decent run for its money in the biggest-selling Hallmark-endorsed fake holiday stakes, but it’s sad that in this country it has slowly transformed from the one day of the year where people could get unashamedly romantic into yet another rigid institution, and, at least for women, a veiled opportunity for them to exercise their femininity by exchanging sweets and cards with each other, away from the prying, lecherous eyes of the men that govern them.

A final thought (what am I, Jerry Springer?): I’m told that on White Day (March 14th), males are expected to return the favour of the bounty they received on Valentine’s Day. Although, except in the increasingly rare cases of genuine romance, it seems to me that the function of White Day is not so much to return a favour as it is to unburden oneself of the guilt of having received a gift for no reason whatsoever on Valentine’s Day in the first place. The end result, naturally, is that men get away guilt-free and women get a nice gift to pacify their wild and unpredictable emotions. And everybody gets on with their lives. Seems like a fair trade to me.

This probably all sounds like a huge whinge. It’s not. I actually had a pretty great Valentine’s Day with a pretty special person. As a foreigner, I am in the priveliged position of being able to look upon these precedings with an objective sense of irony. Before y’all attack me for being a Nippon playa-hata, just keep in mind that these rants are not intended to be anything more than mildly entertaining. Yoroshiku, ne?