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節分 and other seasonal markers

2010 February 4

Yesterday was a minor holiday called Setsubun. This holiday’s name means “season division”, and apparently it’s supposed to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s sort of a spring-cleaning holiday; at home, lucky beans are thrown around to rid the house of demons. Plenty of people were going to shrines, and we were served a small packet of lucky beans with school lunch, but I’m still not sure what the celebration of Setsubun really entails.

All I know is, the day after the beginning of spring, it’s snowing in Ino. Granted, we’re up in the mountains, but it’s damn cold! Somebody up there’s got their wires crossed. How did Punxetawny Phil do?

Life is exciting and unexciting at the moment. My schools aren’t asking much of me in anticipation of graduation, which is in mid-March. I’m doing less lesson planning for younger grades in favor of spending time with the sixth-graders before they move off to junior high (not that we’re doing any extra learning in the meantime). I’m in a tight spot with graduation for all elementary schools in Hamada on the same day; only one school so far has invited me, but I think a few more would like to, they’re just not sure where I’m obligated to be work-wise.

In the meantime, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I haven’t (yet) been asked to teach a lesson about it. Valentine’s Day in Japan is very different from Valentine’s Day in the US and the rest of the world, I think. Here, Valentine’s is the day women give men sweets to show their appreciated It’s not just friends and lovers; they’re required to give it to all men in their lives, especially coworkers and bosses, so as not to play favorites. There used to be a code for what kind of sweet was given in what kind of relationship (one meant “I’m romantically interested in you”, one meant “let’s be friends”, one meant “you’re my boss”…). These days, things have been simplified to giving everyone chocolate, and the chocolate you’re obliged to give to people you have a business relationship has been nicknamed 義理チョコ (“giri choco”, obligation chocolate). They even sell a mold at the dollar store by me that allows you to make chocolates with “giri! choco” printed on them, just in case there’s any confusion. Seems a little tacky to me…

For all the work that women do on Valentine’s Day in Japan, men are required to reciprocate in equal share a month later on White Day, on the 14th of March. However, this means men actually have it a lot easier; all they have to do is keep track of who gives them what on Valentine’s. I wonder what happens in places like my office, where all the female staff have pooled together funds to buy the men expensive chocolates.

As a reaction to coming home from vacation and against the winter blahs, this month is packed full of JET activities. Last weekend we had an Australia Day party hosted by the only(?) Australian in our prefecture; the next few weekends will have a big birthday party, a Valentine’s ball, a trip to the Naked Man festival in Okayama, and an interprefectural dance party. I have to decide which of these things to skip, or I’ll be exhausted! At least March will hopefully bring the end of the freezing cold days. It’s hard to have enough energy when the weather keeps surprising us like this.

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