Today is White Day, the day that Japanese confectioners and retailers have decreed that men give a return gift (o-kaeshi) to women who gave them chocolate on Valentines Day, one month ago. While white chocolate is a favorite, other popular items include candy, cute character goods that say “thank you” and more. As with many aspects of gift giving in Japan, there’s often a lot of giri (obligation, what you’re expected to do) and very little kimochi (feeling, what you earnestly want to do), so that there’s a built-in falseness to the whole thing — but of course, no one is supposed to take a day like White Day too seriously. If you’re a man and got some chocolate from a woman on Valentines Day, be sure and give her something today to show your gratitude!
Ever since the first steam locomotive started operating between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1872, trains have been a large part of Japan’s transportation system and economy. Rail lines run everywhere in Japan, and if you live in a large city, it’s usually quite easy to forego owning a car entirely. During my time as a teacher, I’ve taught English to many young people who were huge train otakus, who loved to travel around Japan to take photos of and ride on famous trains, like the famous Yufuin no Mori express in Kyushu, the Tsubasa, the only shinkansen that can also run on normal tracks, or the Nozomi 800, the fastest train in Japan. Like all boys here, my son went through a phase when he decided that he loved trains more than anything else, and I had a lot of fun learning all the names of Japan’s famous trains with him. Our favorite one of all is the double-decker MAX, which stands for “multi amenity express” in case you were wondering.
There are many approaches to learning a foreign language — the Army Method (stress on learning through memorization), the Grammar Translation Method (learning a language by parsing its grammar), the Communicative Method (leaning by speaking and listening in the target language), and the Natural Approach (trying to replicate the steps that children go through when they learn a language). Then there’s the “get attention” method, which I’ll label the Social Feedback Method to give it a proper name. Basically, you learn whatever vocabulary and phrases that will make you the life of the party among your new linguistic group, be it cute ways to begin conversations with attractive Japanese girls or interesting phrases that will amuse people around you. I have a friend who worked his way across Asia using this method, learning just enough of the local languages to be social and have fun with his hosts, and he swears by it. For myself, I learned Japanese at the excellent language program at SDSU, and added to my studies by reading manga, transcribing songs to memorize them for singing at karaoke bars, and making friends at the Japanese-American Friendship Club at our university.