Life in Kyoto: obligation

Recently, we had Valentine’s Day.  Japan may be the only country on Earth where the phrase “obligation chocolate” makes sense.

Unlike the USA, where V-Day involves men giving chocolate, flowers, gifts, and cards to women, V-Day in Japan involves women giving chocolate to men.  (Men then return the favour on White Day, which is sometime later in the year.)  It’s a big deal.  The department stores have “chocolate fairs” with expensive imports from all over the world.  Plus, they give away free samples, so for a week before V-Day, you can go around gorging yourself on expensive chocolate if you’re shameless.


For the ten-year-old Japanese boy in each of us, there is of course Ultraman chocolate…


But since this is Japan, it’s not so simple as giving chocolate to your fiancé or boyfriend.  You also have to give chocolate to your secret lover, the teacher you have a crush on, your male friends, your father, your co-workers, your boss, and other men in decreasing order of importance to your life.  The chocolate you give the men you don’t care about is giri choko, or “obligation chocolate”.

Obligation isn’t just for chocolate, however.  You may also be obliged to attend meetings, parties, and overseas vacations–yes, I wrote “overseas vacations”–for your company.  Recently, one of my English students who is graduating from university this year said she was hung over from spending days going to drinking parties with her professors because she needed to graduate!

Obligation is an important part of life in Japan and this no less true in the dojo.  Do you hate making fun of yourself in front of crowds?  Well, you may be obliged to be a court jester at a party.  Do you hate teaching kids?  Well, you may be obliged to assist with one of the kids’ classes.  It’s all part of the package of being in the dojo family.  The good news is, at Mugenjuku, they can be understanding about kenshusei needing to work for a living, etc.

Come on down to Kyoto and find out what you may be obliged to do.  Discover the adventure of obligation!