Life on JET, Teaching

Celebrating Green and White Holidays in Japan

White Day
March 14th is White Day in Japan. If you don’t know what it is, I promise it`s not nearly as bad as it sounds. White Day is simply a day designated for boys to return sweets to the girls who gave them something on Valentine’s Day. After a couple friends asked me why Japan has a holiday called White Day of all things…my supervisor and I decided to look up the origin of the name. In 1977, a confectionary company in Fukuoka sold marshmallows on March 14th for men to give to women as a way to say thank you for their Valentine’s Day gifts. It was originally called Marshmallow Day, but later on was changed to White Day when more confectionary companies started marketing white chocolate for the March 14th holiday. There seems to be a lot of gossip in Japan (or at least on my island amongst my group of friends) that receiving only marshmallows on White Day means the guy doesn’t actually like you back…but as another JTE says, “it’s just a commercial holiday like Valentine’s Day and it doesn’t mean anything.” I agree, but it is still entertaining to learn about this because we definitely don’t have anything like this back home. My teachers and students were just as surprised to discover that America doesn’t have White Day as I was to find out that Japan and a few other east asian countries have one

White Day was tame at my school. I saw one of my JTEs eating an elaborate fruit pastry that she received from two male Japanese teachers as thanks to the cheesecake she made for everyone (men and women) on Valentine’s Day. I asked one of my English club boys if he had any chocolates for the girls, and then he bowed and said “Gomen.” He didn’t have anything.

And as for me? Well…two of my genki-est, funniest students came to the teacher`s room before the school day had even started and gave me these:


And some handshakes and hugs. I didn’t give them anything on Valentine’s Day though…

Back in February, I actually had one of my classes write their opinions on Valentine’s Day in their English journals. A lot of the girls told me they didn’t like Valentine’s Day because there was too much pressure. “Why do I have to have to spend all day in the kitchen making chocolate?” One of them lamented.

They taught me about three different kinds of chocolate a girl can give out on Valentine’s Day.

  1. Honmei chocolate- Chocolate that means “I love you!”
  2. Giri chocolate- Chocolate that means “I’m just giving this to you out of social obligation!”
  3. Tomo chocolate- Chocolate that means “You’re my galantine!” (Chocolate that girls give to their girlfriends)

Even if they are single, high school girls in Japan are stressed because of these cultural Valentine’s Day obligations. While in America, high school girls without a partner can sometimes feel alienated on February 14th. I find it interesting how these young girls are pressured for different reasons. Girls in Japan are stressed because they have to participate, while girls in America are stressed because they feel left out.

St. Patrick`s Day
I am not Irish, but there are millions of Irish Americans living in the states, so why not introduce St. Patrick`s Day to my students? Plus, I was an Irish dancer from age 11-16, so I always had an affinity for Irish culture. And my best friend is part Irish (Hi Erin!) and my brother in law is part Irish (Hi Sean! You are not reading this) so I guess by association I am a little bit Irish, right?

Last night, I prepared an introduction to St. Patrick`s Day and Irish-American culture for my students. I also had a clip of  Riverdance, a word search and a writing activity for my first year students today.

Dressed in my bright green blouse, I walked up the steps to the fourth floor of school for first period. The curtains were closed in the classroom, but I just assumed it was because my JTE had set up the projector for my presentation beforehand. We usually close the curtains for that because my school’s classrooms are like 75% windows and we can’t see the screen otherwise.

But when I slipped underneath the curtain…I walked into a room full of smiling students, my JTE dressed in green, and about 40 handmade shamrocks displayed all around the classroom. Every single student wrote “Happy St Patrick`s Day”  on their shamrock and signed their names in romanji, just like I al ways ask them to do.

“Happy Saint-o Patrick`s Day!” they all shouted in unison.

I couldn`t hide my smile. I certainly feel a little bit Irish today.

My students had never heard of Saint Patrick’s Day before I introduced it to them. It was a cool experience to be the first person to teach them something about another culture. Unlike when I  thought I was introducing Martin Luther King Jr. to them for the first time and almost every hand went up in the air when I asked if they knew who he was…turns out MLK is in their English textbook in Junior high.

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