Gather ’round, boys and girls. It’s time for…(drum roll)…
Jokes that are only funny if you live in Japan!
Several office ladies were gathered around the green tea dispenser in their crisply pressed uniforms. One of them said, “My boss is such a dope. He’s just the stupidest thing since the 8% sales tax. The other day, he actually rode the Marunouchi line from Ikebukuro to Shinjuku.”
Peals of laughter all around. Then another of the ladies said, “Hah! My boss is even stupider than that. Last February, he gave me chocolates on Valentines Day.”
Gales of laughter. Green tea went flying out of mouths and up noses. Crisp uniforms were sprayed misty green.
The Marunouchi subway line does indeed run from Ikebukuro to Shinjuku. But the above ground Shonan-Shinjuku, Saikyo and Yamanote lines also do that. There are three stations in between for a distance of just under 5km. Travel time: between 5 and 10 minutes. Cost: 160yen. The Marunouchi line departs Ikebukuro and heads southeast past Tokyo Station, loops toward the northwest and arrives at Shinjuku a whopping 17 stations and 24km later. Travel time: unavailable. No one has ever actually done it. Cost: interestingly, only 170yen, the minimum fee for subways because it’s based on the actual distance between the two stations.
As for Valentines Day, Japan loves to absorb customs and traditions from other countries, but they sometimes get a tad warped. On Valentines Day, women are meant to give gifts to men and not the other way around. It’s usually chocolate and has become obligatory in working situations. It’s called “giri choco” and usually ends up being passed along to wives or girlfriends since macho, manly Japanese men would mostly prefer to drink beer than eat sweets. Obviously, this is not fair. It puts undue pressure on women to spend money on men who still generally get paid more than women do, so in these enlightened days of sexual equality, the candy companies invented White day, March 15, when men are meant to buy candy for women. Mostly they don’t.
In recent years, Halloween has boomed in popularity. People are always shocked when I tell them it’s not a national holiday and nobody but kids really cares about it. Ditto Valentines Day. Although it’s not unheard of for friends to give each other gifts, it’s really meant for lovers, which is how Christmas is treated here. If you’re dating, you’re meant to go out for an expensive, romantic Christmas dinner. Families eat KFC and strawberry shortcake, which is available all year, but at Christmas time comes with a plastic Santa and costs twice as much. There’s just as much commercial hype as in the States–music, decorations, sweets–but the celebration is on Christmas eve. Everyone gets up and goes to work as usual on Christmas day. I did a boxing class at the dojo, which is ironic considering that today is Boxing day, at least in England, where it is a national holiday, but is unheard of both in the States and in Japan. December 23, on the other hand, is a national holiday here, the emperor’s birthday, but I had to work. And I worked after boxing class, so today is Christmas in my head. To celebrate, we went out and bought ourselves some treats.