Barentain Day

There’s no respite from “Never Forget That You’re Single Day”, not even in Japan. Last week was Valentine’s Day here, but with a few subtle twists. Firstly, on Valentine’s Day, only girls give guys presents (usually chocolates).  But not so fast, cheapskate – in March is “White Day”, where guys reciprocate (or not). At first, I thought this setup was a great deal for guys, as it lets you make a romantic reconnoiter of sorts, avoiding all sorts of awkward situations. But there would have to be a catch of course – presents from guys are expected to be three times times the value of girls’ presents.  Nice.

Like lots of food and gifts in Japan, the presentation is very important:

It’s more a production than a tasty snack.  Yes, all of this houses four small chocolate ginger cakes (which were fantastic, by the way).  So that’s a chocolate cake on a plastic tray, inside a plastic wrapper, inside a box made of glossy, high-quality cardboard, inside a bigger box holding  the other boxes, inside a cardboard sleeve, wrapped in paper.  But like I said, it WAS a very delicious cake, so maybe there’s something to this.  Even if you buy a cheap box of chocolate from a convenience store, often every chocolate will be individually wrapped and artfully presented on a plastic tray – which are also uniformly great.

From a random sample of one person I happened to ask, it seems that the idea of the secret Valentine isn’t too big here – but I have a theory for this.  Where in Western countries, Valentine’s presents are usually romantic, in Japan, there are three types of presents.   Romantic gifts; gifts to your platonic friends; and what are called giri-choko, or “obligation chocolates” – something you would give to co-workers or to reciprocate a favour.  So, my guess is that you’ve got an easy explanation if the object of your affection wasn’t overly thrilled to receive a gift from you.  Either way, from all these different classes of chocolate, the confectionery companies do extremely well.

And how did I do from Valentine’s Day?  Um, awesome, just great.  I, uh, had to start giving chocolates to orphans because I felt so guilty at swimming in a well-wrapped sea of obligation-inspired popularity.

And now I’m waiting for my reciprocal orphan chocolate.

The little people go on strike

It turns out some acronyms are slightly misleading.  I realised that this long weekend when I tried to withdraw money from an ATM.

Only having 100 yen ($1 AUD) left in my wallet, I stopped by my local bank to visit an ATM.  To my surprise, the bank was locked and closed. From the looks of some of the other puzzled people hanging around the front of the bank, it wasn’t just me and my lack of language comprehension.

I tried the ATM in the nearby convenience store.  It spat my card out.  I think it also swore at me in Japanese.

It seems I had forgotten something.  In a country renowned for high technology, the ATMs for my Japanese bank operate with the premise that there are tiny leprechauns inside dispensing the cash. If you use them after 8pm on any day you have to pay a penalty fee, for leprechaun overtime.  If you use them on the weekends you have to pay another penalty fee, for leprechaun booze, no doubt. And as it turns out, when there’s a bank holiday, all the ATMs are offline.  Damn those leprechauns and their fat-cat union bosses.

Aren’t these machines supposed to be automatic?  You know, with computers and things that work 24 hours a day without complaining?  Luckily I had a friend with me who kindly lent me some money. Without any other way to get money out of my account, I would have been stuck somewhere in Tokyo with a very, very long walk home.  I might have to invest in a contingency leprechaun of my own for next time.

A million pieces of white

I fire up my laptop this morning, and this is what I see:

I am so stunned that I actually go to the extent of pulling the curtains back to confirm non-digitally:

Wow. There was snow in Tokyo about 10 days ago, but it was of the “This rain is kind of slushy” variety, and didn’t result in any snow on the ground.  Doesn’t count.  But today, in my non-expert opinion, there is actual snow in Tokyo. The wind whipping through the densely clustered buildings is creating a hypnotic, swirling effect on the snowflakes as they bucket down. (Bucket? Sorry, my snow-related vocabulary has never had a chance to develop).

From what I hear, such snow is a Notable Event. (Popular theory: even though Tokyo is fairly far north hemisphere-wise and might be qualified for regular snow, it’s a concrete jungle which blocks sea-breezes and traps heat, making for some very oppressive summers too).

Later, I might go out and make one of those “snow angels” I keep hearing about.  I’m not sure what the recommended technique for avoiding traffic while doing so is, however, so some research is in order.  To the library!