Quote for the day

 人生はこの世で一番すばらしい旅路だ

2,100 lanterns lit up in memory of tsunami victims

Posted on Mainichi Shimbun on 2014.3.10

Lanterns are placed alongside a road leading to Mount Hiyori in the Yuriage district
of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 9. (Mainichi)

We will never forget those precious lives…
May rest in peace forever…


Original article

http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140310p2a00m0na011000c.html

 

What is the cost of a Malay style wedding? A Report from Malaysia

This report is a follow-up to the Malay Style Wedding Party report which received a huge response. Today’s theme is about how much it actually costs for Malay (Muslim) people to get married.

In Japan, it costs a lot of money to have a wedding party. According to a survey from a Japanese wedding agency, a typical wedding party costs around 3 to 3.5 million yen on average. However, the couple getting married only has to pay about 1 million yen because all of the guests give money as a gift.

Now, how about Malay weddings?
A man who decides to get married first faces the issue of a dowry. There are two types of wedding dowries which are given from the man to his future bride:
The first type is called a mas kahwin. It’s compulsory in Islam for a man to pay a dowry to the woman and its amount is fixed by local state religious departments. For example, it is 80 RM (about US$25) for an unmarried woman and 40 RM (about US$12) for divorcee.


Photo: Provided by Mrs. Safiya who is Japanese and married a Malay man in 2012. She had a wedding ceremony at the mosque in her husband’s home town of Pahan. The amount (22.5 RM in Pahan) is also read out in the wedding vows. The money is beautifully decorated and sent to the bride.

The second type of dowry is called a hantaran khawin which is not compulsory in Islam, but traditional. This dowry is sent for the cost of the wedding party on the bride’s side. The average amount is 10000RM (about US$3050), but the bride’s family tends to set higher amount if their daughter has a higher educational background.
The average man’s monthly salary in Malaysia was 1906RM (about US$580) in 2012, so you can imagine how expensive these dowries are.

(Source:The Malaysian Insider http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/for-young-malay-couples-an-increasingly-high-price-to-getting-wed

日本の場合、ゲストからのご祝儀がいただけて、相場も決まっているので計算できますし、実際ご祝儀で披露宴費用の多くを賄うことができますが、マレー式の場合は招待客が500-1000人と多い上にプレゼントが主流です。
「う~ん、現金の方が有難いんじゃないかな」と余計な心配をしてしまう外国人の私です。

Wedding parties are generally held on both the groom and bride’s side in their home towns, so twice in total and it usually costs at least 20000 RM (about US$6100). Of course, it depends on the area where the party is held, whether it’s held at home or in a wedding hall, and whether food is cooked at home or catering services are used.

In Japan, couples can expect monetary gifts from all guests, so they can pay the greater part of the expenses. However, Malay couples usually get gifts from around 500 to 1000 guests.
Maybe it’s because I am Japanese, but I would prefer to have the money rather than gifts.


Photo: Provided by Mrs. Safiya
Wedding scenes in an area of the country side called kampung. Cows for a feast. 3000RM (about US$915) per head
It makes me feel nostalgic for Japanese communities of the past.

As a final thought, consider this: Malay Muslims make up over 60 % of the country’s population, but over 80 % of the divorced population in Malaysia. This figure shows that Malay Muslims are more likely to get a divorce compared to their Chinese or Indian Malaysian counterparts. Does this high rate of divorce have anything to do with the fact that married couples sometimes start their new life together in debt because of the amount of money they need to get married? It seems like the well-known expression “marriage is not the goal, but the start line” is also true in Malaysia.

Reported by Makiko Wada, Sugawara Institute

 

Oil composition boost makes hemp a cooking contender

Released on EurekAlert! On February 10, 2014
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/uoy-ocb021014.php

Scientists at the University of York today report the development of hemp plants with a dramatically increased content of oleic acid. The new oil profile results in an attractive cooking oil that is similar to olive oil in terms of fatty acid content having a much longer shelf life as well as greater heat tolerance and potentially more industrial applications.

Researchers in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at York say that high oleic acid varieties are a major step towards developing hemp as a commercially attractive break crop for cereal farmers. The research is published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Using fast-track molecular plant breeding, the scientists selected hemp plants lacking the active form of an enzyme involved in making polyunsaturated fatty acids. These plants made less poly-unsaturated fatty acids and instead accumulated higher levels of the mono-unsaturated oleic acid. The research team used conventional plant breeding techniques to develop the plants into a “High Oleic Hemp” line and higher oleic acid content was demonstrated in a Yorkshire field trial.

Oil from the new line was almost 80 per cent oleic acid, compared with typical values of less than 10 per cent in the standard hemp line. This high mono-unsaturated/low poly-unsaturated fatty acid profile increases the oil’s thermal stability and oil from the new line was shown to have around five times the stability of standard hemp oil. This not only makes the oil more valuable as a cooking oil but also increases its usefulness for high temperature industrial processes.

As oilseed rape faces declining yields and increasing attacks from pest and disease, UK farming needs another break crop to ensure the sustainability of its agriculture and maintain cereal yields. An improved hemp crop, yielding high quality oil would provide an excellent alternative. Hemp is a low-input crop and is also dual-purpose, with the straw being used as a fibre (for bedding, composites and textiles), for biomass and as a source of high value waxes and secondary metabolites.

Professor Ian Graham, from CNAP, said: “The new line represents a major improvement in hemp as an oil crop. Similar developments in soybean and oilseed rape have opened up new markets for these crops, due to the perceived healthiness and increased stability of their oil.”

In 2014 field trials of the new High Oleic Hemp are being rolled out across Europe in order to establish agronomic performance and yield under a range of environmental conditions in advance of launching a commercial crop.

Original Article released:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/uoy-ocb021014.php

Link Cited on: LINK de DIET
http://www.nutritio.net/linkdediet/news/FMPro?-db=NEWS.fp5&-Format=detail.htm&kibanID=43327&-lay=lay&-Find

Hina Matsuri- Dolls Festival

Winter cold has been subsided as seasons have been changing. In the bright sunshine, spring flowers of light colors make beautiful scenery. A new season also brings us new cultural and enjoyable events. After a new year holidays in January comes Setsubun, ‘Bean-Throwing’ Festival in February followed by Hina Matsuri, Dolls Festival in March.

In Japan, we have a custom to purify our soul, mind, and body and to wish for health at certain occasions during a year. The Seven-Herb Festival on January 7th, the Dolls Festival on March 3rd, the Feast of Flags (The Iris Festival) on May 5th, the Star Festival on July 7th, and the Chrysanthemum Festival on September 9th. Those 5 occasions are called ‘Sekku,” and among those, the Dolls Festival is to wish girls’ health and growth and also called Hina Dolls Festival after its main event of displaying the traditional Hina Dolls. (By the way, the Feast of Flags in May is for boys.)

The original custom of the doll festival was a bit different. People would rub a girl’s body with a paper doll shaped as a human as if to absorb all the bad spirits from her. Then, they would float it down the river to purify. The custom is called ‘Nagashi Bina’ and it is still practiced in some regions. But since the Edo period, the custom of decorating the hina dolls has taken the place of floating a paper doll. Though the shape of the hina doll has drastically changed, the concept stays the same. The hina doll is the girl’s alter ego, so it deserves to be treated as such. Materials used for the doll are very sensitive and the doll usually has kimono made with special fabric, so a great care must be paid when keeping the dolls in boxes. Also, when the dolls complete their duties and it’s time to be disposed, the owner of the doll or her mother must hold a memorial service properly.

In general, when a girl baby is born, parents on the maternal side give hina doll prior to the baby’s very first Dolls Festival. And the same dolls will be decorated and displayed every year until the baby is grown up. Some may take over their mothers’ dolls, but it is normal and basic for each girl baby gets her own doll set. However, such rule doesn’t necessarily apply to recent families because of the limited space within the house and the financial situations. Nowadays, hina dolls have a variety of types and sizes from which we can choose the best one for a girl baby.

Although the custom of Hina Matsuri has been modified accordingly, there is one customary manner that we need to follow. It is when to take out and when to put away the dolls. Hina Dolls are to display on a fine day soon after February 4th, ‘Rishun’ the first day of spring in the lunar calendar and they need to be put right away after March 3rd. It is just a superstitious but is believed that the girl may miss a good timing for getting married in the future if the dolls are not properly taken care of. The reasons behind this manner is that the doll taking bad spirits for the girl should not be displayed too long in public or the girl should be disciplined to keep things tidy and in order as growing up. Also, the Emperor and the Empress of the doll set reflects a wedding ceremony. Japanese phrase, ‘katazuku,’ has dual meanings of putting away and being married off, so there includes a parents’ wish that their daughter will get married accordingly.


I don’t have a daughter but we spent the night of Dolls Festival with Hina arare that my younger son brought home from kindergarten and sakura mochi.

Hina Dolls are usually decorated with peach blossoms, hina arare (sweetened rice-flour cakes), hishi mochi (rhombus-shaped rice pounded cake), and sweet drink made from fermented rice. The four colors of hina arare, pink, green, yellow, and white represent four seasons. Hishi mochi has three layers of pink, white, and green; each of which means talisman, purity, and longevity. Family having girl children usually celebrates Dolls Festival with chirashi sushi, unrolled sushi served in a box and clear soup of clams on the night of March 3rd. Clams symbolize a perfect couple as it requires them a couple of shells to close tightly. Serving a clam soup on Hina matsuri is a hidden prayer that parents wish for their daughter to be blessed with a good match in the future.

 

Spring is just around the corner.

 Spring is just around the corner.

You’ll either love or hate those stinky, sticky beans

Posted on February 18, 2014 onOn The Japan Times
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2014/02/18/food/youll-either-love-or-hate-those-stinky-sticky-beans/#.UwWdJK9WGJA

Gooey but good for you: Nattō is a healthy delicacy made from fermented soybeans. | MAKIKO ITOH
BY Makiko Itoh

Soybeans have long been an important part of the Japanese diet. They are enjoyed in many forms — as edamame, tofu or yuba; boiled or roasted; ground up as flour; and so on. Soybeans also have religious significance, as we’ve seen this month during Setsubun, when roasted soybeans are thrown to signify the driving out of bad spirits.

There is one form of soybean, however, that is quite infamous: the sticky, pungent fermented version called nattō. Its gooey consistency and extreme odor can be baffling to Westerners, and it’s far from universally loved in Japan as well: People from the west and south of the country tend not to like it. But people from the east and the north usually love it: the sticky-stringy texture, the fermented-cheese-like flavor and all.

It’s not quite certain when or who first discovered that wrapping cooked soybeans in rice straw for a while would make them ferment and become soft and sticky. The earliest written record of nattō is from around the mid-11th century, but it is fairly certain that the food itself existed way before then.

The bacillus bacteria that turns soybeans into nattō, bacillus subtilis or bacillus nattō, lives on rice straw, and since both rice and soybeans have existed in Japan since prehistoric times, it’s quite likely that nattō has been made since then too. My mother remembers her mother still making it the old-fashioned way by wrapping boiled soybeans in straw and keeping them in a warm place for a few days, but commercial nattō is made using an isolated culture in sanitized factory conditions — which, according to some, saps the food of a little of its character.
Nattō is something of an acquired taste, especially if you didn’t grow up eating it. But there are a lot of good reasons to try it. Whole cooked soybeans are packed with protein, fiber and other nutrients, but the fermentation process makes nattō even more beneficial to health: It adds probiotics to the diet, which helps with digestion as well as strengthening the immune system. It’s also packed with vitamin K, which is found in leafy greens and organ meats, as well as vitamin PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone), which may help your body’s cells to metabolize.

You can counteract the unique pungency of nattō by adding such aromatic ingredients as chopped green onion, grated ginger, wasabi or mustard, and even sesame seeds. (That’s why most store-bought nattō comes with a little packet of mustard.) The sauce that comes included usually contains dashi stock, which also counteracts the flavor.

Cooking, too, helps to dissipate the pungency; try using it in stir fries. Adding it to a dish with tomato sauce or curry will make the nattō-ness almost disappear. If you’re a vegan, nattō may be of particular interest as an easily digestible protein source. Try chopping it up and using it in place of ground meat.

In the recipe to the left for a kind of nattō rosti, the pungency of the fermented beans is reduced both by cooking them and by adding green onion and sesame oil, plus the yuzu sanshō in the dipping sauce. The starch in the potatoes and the stickiness of the nattō hold the pancakes together without any egg or flour binder. Use either whole-bean or split-bean (hikiwari) nattō.

If, like me, you enjoy the cheesy pungency and sticky-stringiness of nattō, then there’s no need to cook it at all; try eating it straight from the pack, seasoned with salt, instead of the usual soy sauce. Make sure to mix the beans vigorously to fully develop the sticky strings — that’s part of the full nattō experience, after all!
Original Article: The Japan Times
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2014/02/18/food/youll-either-love-or-hate-those-stinky-sticky-beans/#.UwWdJK9WGJA

Japan’s leather industry, almost as tough as old boots

Posted on February 10, 2014 onOn The Japan Times
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2014/02/10/style/japans-leather-industry-almost-as-tough-as-old-boots/#.UwWWsa9WGJA
Handing down skills: Katsuhiko Nakano teaches two students how to hand stitch a leather pouch at a workshop
in his Asakusa studio. | CAMERON ALLAN MCKEAN

BY Cameron Allan Mckean
Special To The Japan Times


“Everyone says their products are ‘made in Japan,’ ” says Katsuhiko Nakano. “But it’s not really true. I doubt it.”

In his east Tokyo workshop, across the Sumida river from Asakusa Station, Nakano is surrounded on all sides by handmade bags and tools for leatherwork. He is one of the few leather craftsmen in the city who still make goods by hand. But to be honest, he’s not sure if he is comfortable being called a “craftsman.”

Local governments in both Taito and Sumida wards — the two districts in Tokyo with a strong history of leather work — are trying to revitalize local crafts and small-scale manufacturing. In the past decade they’ve helped support small-scale manufacturers in a number of ways, including the opening of Taito Designers Village in 2004, an old school transformed into a collection of studios where makers can develop skills and relationships with local craftspeople. The goal is to encourage a new generation of local makers. To the north of Asakusa Station is the Asakusa Manufacturing Studio and Taito Ward Industrial Training Center, which provides facilities for local leatherworkers and creators. This was the location of the A-Round craft and manufacturing festival in November last year.

Tokyo Art Navigation (⤢tokyoartnavi.jp/english/spot/033/index.html), run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, describes the Designers Village as, in particular, an initiative with the “power … to vitalize this community of handicrafts manufacturers.”

“I have friends at the Designers Village,” says Keito Enomoto, a 26 year old apprentice from Osaka, who has come to Tokyo to begin work as a leather craftsman, “most of them are designers.”

But something “designed in Japan,” is not the same as being “made in Japan,” Enomoto continues. “Some of these designers think that whatever they design is good enough to be mass produced, but they haven’t perfected the craft.”

Nakano also feels that the government-funded projects aren’t quite getting it right.

Which parts of goods need to be actually made in Japan for them to be considered “made in Japan?” Increasingly a “revived craft industry” is one where craftspeople are paired with designers — a formula that has had success in a number of places, particularly in Tsubame-Sanjo, a town in Niigata Prefecture that has a design-focused festival featuring its small-scale manufacturers. The problem is that more people are becoming designers, but there is no second generation of craftspeople. And so production is being moved overseas. Made in China, designed in Japan isn’t a prediction. In the leather industry, it’s already happened.

Nakano entered the leather industry with a job at a Saitama factory, in the suburban sprawl north of Tokyo. His work involved checking the quality of leather bags that had been made cheaply in China and shipped to Japan, he says. Once checked, the bags were sent to brands, some of which had their own “made in Japan” labels sewn into them. It’s a far cry from the image of the apprentice toiling away in his master’s workshop.

“I saw so many craftspeople whose kids didn’t want to continue the business,” says Nakano. Saving money became difficult. “No one wanted to pay the craftsmen fair prices,” he says, “there was just too much (alternative) stuff.”

Many gave up to become taxi drivers as “production was moved to China,” he says. “But I thought, ‘I could do this; I could make money from this.’ ”

And, against all odds, he has — as the only worker at His-Factory, a brand that produces handmade leather bags sold at his own store.

The wider culture of leather goods made by craftsmen in Asakusa, however, has gone. Revitalization is not just about making things in Japan; it’s also about reviving some nostalgic feelings about the past. But what version of history are these local initiatives trying to bring back?

In the same building that hosted the A-Round festival is Asakusa’s Industrial Leather Museum. Waiting at a small desk inside the quiet space is Minori Inagawa, a retired shoemaker and one of Japan’s leading writers on leatherwork.

“I was born in 1929, so I’ve seen everything,” says Inagawa. “You can ask me anything.”

After explaining a story about the origin of the first shoe factory in Japan — involving a handsome samurai called Nishimura Katsuzo — he tells a different story.

For 13 generations, a succession of men controlled Japan’s marginalized leather industry, each known by the official name of Danzaemon, until 1871, when the 13th and final Danzaemon, named Dan Naoki, was stripped of the title. The Danzaemon were in sole charge of leather work, not due to any special skill, but because they were responsible for the social class of people who worked the leather. Yes, social class. The leatherworkers were part of a caste that were known by a number of derogatory names. In the feudal era, they were called the eta (which meant “full of filth”), and later hinin (“non-human”) and buraku (“hamlet” people, a term that became a slur), all of which referred to roughly the same thing: outcaste, which to others meant tainted or dirty. Although they were officially liberated from their low caste in 1871, a number of the descendents of this group still live around Asakusa, and are still marginalized.

The “dirty” and difficult leather work performed in these areas gave the districts a notoriously foul smell, which forced the last Danzaemon’s leather workshops further and further out. But he wasn’t pushed out just because of the smell.

“The stench of the buraku is not the stench of leather,” writes novelist Noma Hiroshi in “Seinen no wa,” (“Ring of Youth”), a five-volume series featuring buraku. “It is the stench of Japanese history.”

Leather in Asakusa today is no longer tainted with the stench of animal hides or oppression. But many versions of its history remain linked to the land here, and with them the complicated question of how to revive the right version to help revitalize the area.

In his Asakusa workshop, Nakano tries to articulate what he thinks is needed.

“Dirt and mud,” he finally says. “The work today is missing soul, the kind of soul that you pull up with your hands.” A certain unpolished, primordial stench that comes from something well-made and hand-made.

“People have forgotten what well-made means,” says Nakano, “even the makers have forgotten, too.”

 

Original Article: The Japan Times
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2014/02/10/style/japans-leather-industry-almost-as-tough-as-old-boots/#.UwWWsa9WGJA

Study shows yogurt consumption reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes

Released on EurekAlert! On February 5, 2014
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/d-ssy020414.php

New research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes) shows that higher consumption of yoghurt, compared with no consumption, can reduce the risk of new-onset type 2 diabetes by 28%. Scientists at the University of Cambridge found that in fact higher consumption of low-fat fermented dairy products, which include all yoghurt varieties and some low-fat cheeses, also reduced the relative risk of diabetes by 24% overall.

Lead scientist Dr Nita Forouhi, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, commented “this research highlights that specific foods may have an important role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and are relevant for public health messages”.

Dairy products are an important source of high quality protein, vitamins and minerals. However, they are also a source of saturated fat, which dietary guidelines currently advise people not to consume in high quantities, instead recommending they replace these with lower fat options.

Previous studies on links between dairy product consumption (high fat or low fat) and diabetes had inconclusive findings. Thus, the nature of the association between dairy product intake and type 2 diabetes remains unclear, prompting the authors to carry out this new investigation, using much more detailed assessment of dairy product consumption than was done in past research.

The research was based on the large EPIC-Norfolk study which includes more than 25,000 men and women living in Norfolk, UK. It compared a detailed daily record of all the food and drink consumed over a week at the time of study entry among 753 people who developed new-onset type 2 diabetes over 11 years of follow-up with 3,502 randomly selected study participants. This allowed the researchers to examine the risk of diabetes in relation to the consumption of total dairy products and also types of individual dairy products.

The consumption of total dairy, total high-fat dairy or total low-fat dairy was not associated with new-onset diabetes once important factors like healthier lifestyles, education, obesity levels, other eating habits and total calorie intake were taken into account. Total milk and cheese intakes were also not associated with diabetes risk. In contrast, those with the highest consumption of low-fat fermented dairy products (such as yoghurt, fromage frais and low-fat cottage cheese) were 24% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the 11 years, compared with non-consumers.

When examined separately from the other low-fat fermented dairy products, yoghurt, which makes up more than 85% of these products, was associated with a 28% reduced risk of developing diabetes. This risk reduction was observed among individuals who consumed an average of four and a half standard 125g pots of yoghurt per week. The same applies to other low-fat fermented dairy products such as low-fat unripened cheeses including fromage frais and low-fat cottage cheese. A further finding was that consuming yoghurt in place of a portion of other snacks such as crisps also reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

While this type of study cannot prove that eating dairy products causes the reduced diabetes risk, dairy products do contain beneficial constituents such as vitamin D, calcium and magnesium. In addition, fermented dairy products may exert beneficial effects against diabetes through probiotic bacteria and a special form of vitamin K (part of the menaquinone family) associated with fermentation.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of dietary research which relies on asking people what they eat and not accounting for change in diets over time, but their study was large with long follow-up, and had detailed assessment of people’s diets that was collected in real-time as people consumed the foods, rather than relying on past memory. The authors conclude that their study therefore helps to provide robust evidence that consumption of low-fat fermented dairy products, largely driven by yoghurt intake, is associated with a decreased risk of developing future type 2 diabetes.
Dr Forouhi stated that “at a time when we have a lot of other evidence that consuming high amounts of certain
foods, such as added sugars and sugary drinks, is bad for our health, it is very reassuring to have messages about other foods like yoghurt and low-fat fermented dairy products, that could be good for our health”.

###

NOTES

1. Type 2 diabetes is common and the number of people with this serious medical condition is increasing in every country, with the International Diabetes Federation global estimates of 382 million people with diabetes in 2013, rising to 592 million in 2035. The potential for its prevention by factors such as the foods we eat is therefore of great interest.

2. In this study, total dairy intake in grams per day was estimated and categorised into high-fat and low-fat dairy and by subtype into yoghurt, cheese, and milk. Combined fermented dairy product intake (yoghurt, cheese, sour-cream) was estimated and also categorised into high- and low-fat.

3. In this study, the fat content of whole milk in the UK (3.9% fat) was used as the cut-off for defining high- and low-fat dairy products.

Original Article released:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/d-ssy020414.php

Link Cited on: LINK de DIET
http://www.nutritio.net/linkdediet/news/FMPro?-db=NEWS.fp5&-Format=detail.htm&kibanID=43303&-lay=lay&-Find

St. Valentine’s Day in Japan ②

In my last blog entry, I explained about Japanese Valentine’s Day that it is customary for women to give chocolate gifts for men they like. Though Valentine’s Day (Feb.14) is over, the event is still ongoing. Whoever received chocolate gifts on Valentine’s Day is expected to give return gifts.

Return Gifts for Valentine’s Day in one month later on White Day.
The budget for the return gifts is expected to spend 1.5 to 3 times more!?

Another trait of Japanese Valentine custom is that men who received Valentine’s chocolate gifts on Valentine’s Day, whether the gifts were “love-you-chocolate,” or “thank you chocolate, must give back so-called return gifts on March 14th, “White Day.”
The items typically selected for return gifts of White Day are hard candies, cookies, and marshmallows. This is also the outcome of the sales promotion that confectionery companies created.

(By the way, this custom of return gift has recently been practiced also in China, Korea, and Taiwan, but there is no such custom in US or Europe. White Day is nothing but unknown word. )

The average budget women tend to spend on one “love-you-chocolate gift” is around \2500 to \3000. “Thank you gifts” in contrast, are usually bought in big quantities, so it eventually requires reducing a unit cost, approximately less than \500 each.

On the other hand, return gifts on White Day from men are expected to be 1.5 to 3 times more expensive items than the Valentine’s gifts. It may not be too difficult to come up with a return gift for wives or lovers. Taking out for a dinner or sending flowers would convey their feelings of love and gratitude.

It was for the “obligated/courtesy gifts” distributed in office that many men struggled in preparing. Sweets solely did not meet the expectations, so it was common for the White Day gifts contained additional item such as handkerchief, coffee mug, stationary, or something small but practical items. This custom steadily but obviously became burden on men. Not knowing what to buy, some men would ask their wives or girlfriends to select White Day gifts. Don’t you think they got their priorities backwards?

Returning gifts or gratitude is considered to be a proper manner in Japan and White Day unexceptionally follows it. But lately, it seems that many people prefer the custom of US and Europe that Valentine’s gifts should be given or exchanged without being stereotypical to genders.

Latest Trend of Valentine’s Chocolate: “Friendship chocolate” & “My chocolate”

In addition to the basic Valentine’s chocolate gifts, “love-you-chocolate,” and “obligated/courtesy chocolate,” there are two other types of chocolate gifts that have become popular for the past years. They are called “friendship chocolate” and “my chocolate.”

“Friendship chocolate gifts” are exchanged with girl friends to thank for being friends. This is popular among young girls in school, even in kindergarten. As it’s named “friendship chocolate,” you need to give the gifts fairly to all the friends in class if you choose to do so. In many cases, Valentine’s friendship gifts are homemade snacks or you buy self-packed small chocolate sweets in a family pack and rewrap. Either way, it is very important to prepare enough numbers of gifts; otherwise, it could affect the relationship with your friends.

Assuming that “friendship chocolate” is to nourish peer relationship for school age girls, “my chocolate” is for working women or household wives in 20s to 40s to reward themselves for working hard every day. The chief distinction of “my chocolate” is the budget that women willingly spend on. They do not hesitate to pay \4000 ($40.00) for a 9-piece assorted chocolate box because it is their treat. For that reason, many major department stores give high priority to hold Valentine Fairs where high brand chocolates of famous patissiers or chocolatiers gathered from all over the world.

Effect of Valentine’s Day

We cannot help admitting that media and confectionery industries have great influence on Japanese Valentine’s Day. Some can take advantage of this custom to build up better relationship with others while others may not find it so fun.

For example in schools, good-looking and athletic boys mostly attain popularity and attentions from girls. It is quite natural for such boys to receive several Valentine’s chocolate gifts each year since grade school. While competing with their peers for the numbers of chocolate gifts, they tend to become self-absorbed and narcissist. In contrast, some boys who don’t get categorized as popular may suffer from feeling inferior for not getting even one “thank you chocolate gift” from girls.

Some girls also participate in Valentine’s event just for complacence purpose. They don’t expect to become someone’s special girlfriend. What they value the most is the act of ‘giving a chocolate gift to someone nice.’ It is not surprising to find that there are quite many girls who give chocolate gifts to boys they have never spoken to. Girls like to hang out as a pair or a group and it is so exciting for them to chat about boys. They simply enjoy the process of Valentine event. They decide who to give chocolate gifts to, go out for shopping or make chocolate sweets with friends. They even accompany their friends when giving Valentine’s chocolate gifts to boys.

Conveying the feelings to others is more important than giving a gift in US and Europe on Valentine’s Day. A gift is just one way of expression. But it is obvious that people in Japan attach too much importance to giving a chocolate, which tells how the custom of Valentine’s Day has grown and spread in Japan.

** ** **

Japanese Valentine’s Day is unique, isn’t it? But I need to emphasize that it is a precious opportunity for the Japanese who seldom express affection. Especially, the married couples who are nurturing children tend to hesitate to tell each other “I love you.” I hope many people make great use of Valentine’s Day to feel favorable towards other people, whether they are lovers, family member, or friends and enjoy the special day to tell their honest, thankful feelings.

On the day before Valentine’s Day during my lunch break, I happened to stop by a supermarket which has a small flower shop at the entrance. On entering, I saw several foreign men (probably US service men from US military base) holding a bouquet of red roses. As I walked by into the store, I also saw several Japanese women picking up Valentine’s chocolate gifts in the separated section. It was such an impressive and contrastive scene.

By the way, I gave chocolate cakes to my husband, but he did not have anything ready for me as expected.(^^; I am looking forward to White Day!