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The following articles were originally published in The Shelbyville News in the column “Letters Home:  A Hoosier in Japan.”



Send questions and comments to me at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com.

Book Description

Letters Home

What types of holidays do Japanese people celebrate? What is the educational system like in Japan? What are Japanese festivals like? What are some of the customs and traditions of the Japanese people? Professor Todd Jay Leonard, writing from the perspective of living and working in Japan, provides in this fascinating book the answers to these and many other questions.
Letters Home: Musings of an American Expatriate Living in Japan delivers a firsthand account of daily Japanese life through the eyes and personal experiences of Professor Leonard who has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with Japan and the Japanese people for nearly twenty-five years. 

This anecdotal book of essays, written in the style of personal letters, offers commentary on a wide range of topics and issues including culture, history, education, language, society, and religion of modern Japan from the point-of-view of an American expatriate who has made Japan his home. 

The author’s friendly, down-to-earth, yet authoritative, style of writing will transport you to modern Japan, where you will learn about the customs and traditions of this most fascinating country. This book can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in learning about Japan and its people.http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Musings-American-Expatriate/dp/0595283098/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299907225&sr=1-2

Japanese Valentine’s Day is one-sided affair


Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and sweethearts all over America (and the world) will be giving their special someone a card, flowers, chocolates or a special gift.

Not so in Japan. The Japanese custom of Valentine’s Day is celebrated much differently than in the United States. Traditionally in America, it is the man who gives chocolates and presents to the woman.

In Japan, it is exclusively the woman who gives chocolates to the man. Of course, many women in the United States give tokens of their affection to men and vice versa, but in Japan it is only women who give these things to men.

There are basically two attitudes regarding the giving of chocolate by women to men in Japan: giri choco (“obligatoryEchocolate) and honmei choco (“from the heartEchocolate).

Many women who work in offices feel obligated to give all the men they work with Efrom their boss to ordinary coworkers Echocolate on Valentine’s Day.

This obligation to give chocolates to men has made some Japanese women very resentful of this custom. Men have come to expect chocolate on Valentine’s Day from OLs (the Japanese term for “office ladiesE. Often women feel they have to give giri choco to all of the men and not just the ones they genuinely like.

Pressure to conform to the whims of the group can be very strong in Japanese society; a woman who does not follow through with this obligation may be looked down upon by her coworkers, especially the women, because she didn’t adhere to the accepted social protocol of this adopted holiday.

A dear Japanese friend of mine who works in a well-known company absolutely detests this custom, but nevertheless presents a small wrapped box of chocolates each year to all the men in her office with a smile. The risk of being shunned is too great for her, so she succumbs to the social pressure and dutifully performs this obligation unwillingly.

In recent years, however, the tradition has lost some steam due to the languishing Japanese economy that has been in the doldrums for many years now. Gradually, some women have stopped giving chocolates due to the sheer cost of performing this yearly ritual.

Generally, a box of chocolates designated as giri choco can be purchased for around $2 to $4 (these usually have four to six pieces). If a woman has 10 male coworkers, this quickly adds up to a pretty pricey formality.

I am quite sure, though, that before a personal decision is made, the women in any given office will casually broach the subject before Valentine’s Day with one another in order to gauge where everyone else stands on the issue. If the majority is in favor of not passing out chocolates, the group opinion would then prevail, and the men would be chocolate-less on the big day.

From mid-January, department stores, convenient stores, and supermarkets begin to display chocolates prominently to cash in on this peculiar tradition. The real winners Ebesides the men who can collect a dozen or more boxes of chocolate on this day Eare the chocolatiers and confectioners in Japan who really promote this holiday in a big way.

Usually included next to the giri choco display is a section with all the makings and ingredients necessary to make homemade chocolate candy and cakes. This area is largely for the honmei (from the heart) chocolate buyers who want to give a more sincere, handmade chocolate-based gift to their special someone.

A female office worker normally wouldn’t go to all the trouble to make homemade chocolates for male coworkers, but she would put forth the extra effort for a beau or sweetheart.

Either way, Valentine’s Day is big business in Japan, but the hoggish chocolate industry cleverly thought of yet another way to further exploit the concept of giri choco.

Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, on March 14, another holiday is celebrated that is uniquely Japanese: White Day. This holiday was created in the early 1980s to give the men who receive chocolate on Valentine’s Day an opportunity to reciprocate the deed by giving the women who presented them with “darkEchocolate with “whiteEchocolate. Of course, this holiday was most likely created by the chocolate industry.

So, as soon as Feb. 14 is over, the same displays are converted into cutesy, feminine spectacles featuring white chocolate gifts for women.

I once took a poll in my class and asked how many of my university women students gave chocolate to men on Valentine’s Day; a goodly number of women raised their hands. I then asked the men students in my class how many of them received chocolate on Feb. 14 Eagain, the majority of them raised their hands.

I finished by asking the men how many of them reciprocated the Valentine’s chocolate they received with White Day chocolates. Not one hand went into the air.

This speaks volumes about the roles of men and women in Japanese society Ewomen are expected to offer chocolates in February to their coworkers and feel obligated to do so, but men rarely feel guilty for accepting chocolates without returning the favor in March. The social expectation is completely different for men and women.

Still, for me, a big box of chocolates from my nearest and dearest given from the heart is much more appreciated than a bunch of small boxes of chocolate given out of duress.

Just because a Japanese man receives numerous giri choco doesn’t mean he has any real admirers. For all he knows, the female office worker bought the chocolate after Valentine’s Day the year before at half-price, and presented it to him the next year ... with a smile.



Monday, February 13, 2006

This is an example of “giri choco,Ea box of chocolates that a Japanese office woman might give to a male colleague on Valentine’s Day out of a sense of obligation, rather than from the heart.Submitted photo