When I first came to Japan 12 years ago, I only knew the pain of hay fever through hearing accounts of it from relatives who suffered.
Called kafunshou in Japanese, seasonal allergies is almost an art form over here. They have special glasses for kafunshou victims, special masks, special machines that clean indoor air of pollen, even special curtains to block out pollen from your home.
I think it’s due to the sheer amount of pollen-producing trees they have here, but I know far too many people here who suffer from it.
I also heard, when I was new to the country still, that a lot of foreigners start off without hay fever and then eventually get it.
I am one such unlucky person. Beginning about two years ago, I am suddenly an avid sufferer of hay fever. It feels like having a cold, but it lasts for three months for me. I’m on allergy medication, and I’m still suffering.
As the weather begins to warm here, I can’t help but both loathe and love spring. I hate the cold so the warmth is a welcome reprieve, and there are cherry blossoms to enjoy, but then hay fever comes along and puts a damper on all of it.
Here in Japan, women give chocolate to men on Valentine’s Day. Men, in turn, do nothing. When I first heard this, I thought it was grossly sexist and unfair. Why do the women have to do everything while the men just sit there? I suppose the same can be said for the reverse, however.
When I was an assistant language teacher, I asked some of the boys at the school what they thought about Valentine’s Day in Japan, and some of them said they hate it, which surprised me.
“We never get anything,” they said. “Every year we have to sit here and watch the other boys get chocolate from girls, and we get nothing.”
In this I understood the power women have in Japan with this duty of giving others chocolate. They can choose to whom they give their chocolate. Men also choose whether they accept that chocolate or not, however.
If the chocolate given is a declaration of love and the man in question feels the same way, then on March 14th, called White Day, he’s supposed to give chocolate back to her. That’s the theory anyway. I don’t know anyone who would ignore someone for an entire month before responding.
The holiday here has also become a little bit softened in that there’s something called “giri choco” or “obligatory chocolates.” Women in the workplace who work with men and women who want to give chocolate to their friends do so and call it “giri choco” so it’s clear there’s no deep romantic feeling behind the chocolate. The men at the office, by the way, are still obligated to give chocolate back on White Day, and usually way better chocolate than what was given to them.
The holiday has recently evolved to the point where, and I love this, women just end up buying nice chocolate for themselves. I did that this year, and it was completely worth it.
Small note: I wish Japan would adopt the American tradition of having everyone in the class give each other Valentine’s Day notes. I know that has to be a humungous pain to every parent making sure your kid writes to every single classmate, but it avoids the pain I saw those boys experience being so utterly left out on Valentine’s Day. I think that makes it worth it.
Also, I have no idea what people in the LGBTQ+ community do on Valentine’s Day in Japan. I’m sure they don’t let these archaic traditions of “women give chocolate to men” stop them from telling others how they feel on this holiday, though.
I also think the holiday should be more about just being an excuse to give people chocolate, and everyone should give anyone they know even just a small chocolate for fun.
I recently stumbled across another song that I’m currently in love with. I was first struck by the title, “Kakurenbo”, which means Hide-and-Go-Seek in Japanese. I was immediately curious to know why a song with such a childish title would be popular here.
The singer, Yuuri, has quite a powerful voice that grabbed my attention, but as I listened to the lyrics, the song immediately made its way into my usual rotation of music.
The song tells the story of a guy growing increasingly desperate for his loved one to return after they have walked out. The guy likens it to the lover merely playing a game of hide-and-go-seek, at one point crying, “Stop playing around, the sun’s about to go down.”
I love these kind of songs that mean more than they say. I think Japanese songs, in general, do a great job of writing intricate stories into their songs. Of course there are the vapid, “I love you. Yay!” songs here as well, but I have found more songs that have meaningful, interesting lyrics here than in a lot of Western songs I’ve listened to.