Culture Shock #96: Valentine’s Day & White Day

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. for instance, not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

Valentine’s Day in Japan is just like Valentine’s Day in Kenya: a non-official, largely commercialized day for celebrating love. But there is one key difference! In Japan, it is the women who give men chocolates (and any other gifts)! So come this Sunday, the Kenyan woman in a relationship with a worthy man will wait to be treated like a queen. She will expect flowers, preferably red roses, chocolates, several other gifts -or at least one expensive gift, and then dinner at a romantic restaurant. For the luckier ladies, they will be whisked away by helicopters or by other vehicular means to romantic locations such coastal or lakeside resorts or even exotic safaris. For instance, the Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi has a 5 Million Kenyan Shillings (about $5,000USD) Valentine’s Offer that includes roses, champagne, helicopter rides, and the presidential suite etc.

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

Now, I am not sure how Kenyan couples split their Valentine’s Day bills, but I can bet the man foots the bill on this particular day. He is also encouraged to come up with creative gifts (in addition to the chocolates and flowers) and ideas for the “surprise” dinner at favorable restaurants. When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, at least the man can get away with the bare minimum but since this year it falls on a weekend, men in relationships have to put in more effort to impress or prove their love or whatever reason couples celebrate Valentine’s.

The Japanese woman on the other hand, can’t afford to sit back and relax. She has to present chocolates to the man in her life, preferably prepared by themselves “as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the ready made chocolate at shops”. That is not to say commercially prepared and packaged chocolates don’t have a market, they do! Read more about it here. Apparently, this practice may have started as a way for women, who are traditionally shy(are they?) to express their feelings. I shall now inform you that yours truly has also joined the bandwagon and bought some chocolates to ahem, express feelings with!

japan-valentines

Lots of commercials and guides showing women who to make chocolates for this special day. Image from tastymiso.com

If you are a Kenyan man thinking of immediately applying for a visa and permanent residence in Japan, know that there is also White Day. On this day, the men reciprocate the gifts they received to the women they received gifts from on Valentine’s Day. It comes exactly a month after, on March 14th. Oh, there is no special day for the man to receive gifts in Kenya, I think White Day only exists in Japan. Where is the justice in this?

P.S. While this post is not about the need to celebrate Valentine’s Day, allow me to say that there is nothing wrong with celebrating romantic love. There are always those couples newly in love, or forever in love, who don’t mind a special day to celebrate their love. That this can be done every other day of the year is besides the point. Of course, it has increasingly become commercialized, just like Christmas (and maybe soon Easter as well as other holidays), but it’s not going to go away any time soon.

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! What plans do you have with your loved ones?

Culture Shock #97: The Onsen Experience

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

So your boyfriend has a better handbag than you, yet he walks around with his wallet sticking out of his back pocket. Meanwhile, you are glad you have double eye-lids and have recently been utilizing a small-face corset so your face may have now shrunk to acceptable standards. But just in case it hasn’t, you have been wearing a surgical mask daily even if you’re not in danger of catching a fatal disease. But you’re not yet fully integrated into the Japanese culture until you are comfortable going to have a shower in a public bathhouse, after which you get into a giant bathtub, fully naked, with other strangers.

Okay, so there are onsens and then there are public bathhouses. (This is my understanding/categorization). Onsens are/were (natural)hotsprings, set in a backdrop of beautiful scenery. Sometimes they’d be in the mountains overlooking a beautiful valley, or the scenic view of snow etc. The main bath would be outside as you soak in the view and relax in hot water which is luxurious especially in winter.

An onsen in winter. Image from http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/schauwecker/111231.html

An onsen in winter. Image from http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/schauwecker/111231.html

To soak in the above inviting onsen, anyone can overcome any shyness or reservations they have about public bathing.

Then there are bathhouses. I didn’t understand why anyone would leave their bathtub at home to go bathe and soak in public. Most people do this on a daily basis or on several days a week.

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Before getting into the bath, you must first wash yourself. The shower area has these plastic stools where you are supposed to sit so as to properly scrub yourself. After which you can enter the pool of sometimes scalding water, which you get used to after a few minutes.

Apparently, “‘Sento’ or public baths have long been part of the Japanese culture and dates back to the time when not all houses have their own bathrooms and some want to experience the soothing feeling hot springs water gives.” But actually, even if you have your own bathtub, it is just not possible to maintain the temperature as well as the bathhouses do, and of course you have plenty of room to stretch and relax at the bathhouse instead of a cramped bathtub.

No, there are no onsens or bathhouses in Kenya. That would seem a strange idea indeed.

I thought it made sense to go to bathhouses in winter and I have been going at least once a week with J. It is very relaxing afterwards and you sleep like a baby. So J and I like to go after dinner.

However, Japanese people go to onsens/bathhouses even in summer, when temperatures are in their late 30s! They say they feel very refreshed afterwards, but I am yet to muster the courage to enter a scalding hot bath in the summer heat!

Most onsens (I think over 95%) have separate sections for men and women. There are some mixed gender onsens but I am yet to go to such (although I hear they be mostly full of men hoping to catch a glimpse of any women joining them). Girls and boys under 8 years old are allowed to go either way! So it is not strange to see 7 year old boys, who of course understand the physical difference between the genders, bathing and soaking with their mothers in the women’s side. Young girls of up to 8 may go with their grandfathers to the men’s side. It’s a little bit unnerving at first because in most Kenyan communities, gazing upon the nakedness of your mother/motherly women is probably a curse-inviting offense. But really, there should be no shame in or any need to hide the human body. I think it is okay now that J is almost 3 and still young, but I am not sure I can still take him with me after he’s turned 5 and over. We’ll see.

In the meantime, we are loving the bathhouses and can be seen there at least once a week. It’s one of the things I am sure we will miss about Japan if and when we return. Never mind there is no winter in Kenya.