Japan is wonderful for so many reasons. I feel totally out of my water here and at once, also, at home.
It takes a few days to adjust, as it does to anywhere. I am taking my shoes off in the wrong places, and very clumsily, much to the amusement of the locals. Sitting for the tea ceremony results in a speedy dead leg and limping out, and drinking the tea with all of the particular traditions (and with the fear of offending everyone) will hopefully become easier soon.
Sometimes things appear inverted. Japanese people are so polite and softly spoken, I feel so bolshy by comparison. It takes care and attention to pick up on important details at times, so, I am quieter than normal (mostly!), listening, observing and learning, and taking a much in as possible.
Take Valentine’s Day, for example. On Valentine’s Day it is the woman’s responsibility to buy chocolates – and only chocolates – for the men in her life. There are two types of chocolates, giri choco and honmei choco, and in between is a potential nightmare, from what I can see.
Giri choco, obligation chocolates are given to the men that you work with etc. and honmei choco, true love chocolates, to the man that you would like affections returned from. The only difference between these is the price of the chocolate, and they aren’t divided into sections in the shops, they are all just chocolate. So you must be clear with your intentions by choosing a chocolate that is not too cheap but also not expensive enough to be considered a honmei choco.
Then you wait exactly a month until White Day, the day when men return a gift to the women / woman who gave them giri or honmei choco. The gift returned, if returned, will indicate his intentions.
I spoke to a lovely Kyoto lady about this, in detail. I wondered if it was as enormously stressful as it seemed? She told me that she had given her honmei choco to a man that she had an enormous crush on, but it wasn’t returned, and she was devestated. But, one of the men that she gave her giri choco to, interpreted it as an honmei choco (eeek!), but it all worked out brilliantly. He gave her a lovely gift in return on White Day (a ring but not an engagement ring or anything), they started dating, and then she married him.
The shops are full of wonderful chocolates for this tradition, I visited the Daimaru department store food court and also a wonderful green tea shop (Ujicha Gion Tsujiri), which even during the week had a very long queue for its café. They have a wonderful range of green teas and products incl fabulous chocolates and ice creams.