Valentine’s Day, Japanese Style

It’s tough to be a guy on Valentine’s Day, no matter where you are, but there are a few special challenges for us international transplants, particularly in Japan.

By rights, it should be easy- nothing is expected of us guys on Valentine’s Day. This day, in Japan, we’re on the receiving end. Then, on March 14th, White Day, we give back as we received (with an increase in quantity, to be sure!) Where was this kind of celebration throughout my awkward high school years. . .  and college. . . oh hell, and grad school! Life coulda been a lot easier on poor, socially inept me.

Maybe it’s the years of Hallmark brainwashing, or maybe it’s the fact that this holiday is a whole lot more fun when you’re not single and spending it alone with John Jameson and Sons, but, even in Japan, I can’t simply sit back and wait for the chocolates to roll in. I want to do something for my wife as well. And when I say “do something,” it almost inevitably means “bake.” I maintain that the best gifts are handmade and edible. There are no kitschy heart-shaped, plastic knick-knacks around our house and the time spent cooking- or trying a new recipe shows love and care in a way that mylar balloons and a heart-shaped snowglobe could never hope to match.

But, in case of recipe failure, overcooking, or dead yeast, I always like to have a floral fallback. And that’s where, this year, Japan threw me for a loop. It’s not just that guys are supposed to be on the receiving end, it’s that, in my particular rural corner of the country, we don’t really get much of a say in the matter.

Florists, where are you? Rural, Japanese small businesses, in general, have no web presence as all (are you a Japanese small business with no web presence? We can help!) but the web is still the first place I, with my American mentality, search. Along the entire route of my hour long commute, one single florist had a web page, or rather, a membership in a florist ring that maintained a barely functional web page. Expanding my search to the cities I live and work in, I managed to locate a handful of other florists, but not a single shop had Valentine’s-based advertising online. And no store even listed bouquets of roses in their inventory.

I assumed it might just be an oversight, based on the apathetic approach to web presences, so I resolved to visit the shop that lay along my commute for a follow-up. At least their web page listed opening hours and directions. I expected that, at the very least, I would be able to pick out a dozen red roses to take home as my backup plan.

Not quite. The store’s Valentine’s Day advertisement in the window was significantly smaller than the yellowing paper sign that proclaimed “We now offer color copying service!” The store’s entire rose inventory was under a dozen, and the vast majority of those looked more than halfway dead. . . and this was the relatively web-savvy place? While I was able to find a few lifelike roses that met my needs, I couldn’t help noticing the complete absence of other customers.

Sure, I know Valentine’s Day in Japan revolves around women giving gifts to men, but surely, I figured, a florist would try to take advantage of any opportunity to increase sales. To my surprise, the shopkeeper was downright condescending as he told me, “Men don’t give flowers on Valentine’s Day.” Maybe he’s bitter about previous years’ sales and decided to cut his losses this year? Or maybe the predominantly senior citizen population of my town isn’t amenable to breaking their traditions. Maybe he was wallowing in his own observation of Single’s Awareness Day. Actually, I doubt it- you could go through the entire day on February 14th in Shiga and mistake it for Groundhog Day.

If I want a dozen red roses, I have to wait for March 14th, when florists will apparently stop hibernating and come out to look for their shadows, just not online.

Valentine muffins by Sawa

Delicious Double-Chocolate Muffins for dessert!

Fortunately, my plan to wake up at 4 a.m. to make heart-shaped bagels for breakfast was a success, so I didn’t need the roses to bail me out, this time. Even though Sawa outdid me later with a four-course meal- complete with “I love you” frosted muffins for dessert, it was another triumph for the handmade, edible approach. No matter what your local culture or traditions, there’s no holiday a properly equipped kitchen can’t handle, with flair!

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