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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012

JAPAN LITE

Valentine's Day — the perfect holiday for one


Valentine's Day is coming up, and once again, you may be wondering how to deal with it in Japan.

If you're a guy, it's easy: Do nothing at all and be showered with chocolates from girls. If you're a girl? No chocolate for you! But wait. We're smarter than that. And no, we don't hold out for the illusory "White Day" when men are supposed to return a gift to the ladies they received chocolate from. Guys can't even remember anniversaries, let alone White Day, which sounds more like your wedding day. Girls will make darn sure we end up with chocolate — by buying it for ourselves.

This is surely what is behind Japan's twisted version of Valentine's Day, where women give giri-choco (obligatory chocolate) to their male peers. They know that us women will buy just as much chocolate for ourselves as we would for any guy. Giri-choco? Bring it on — for me!

As I contemplated Valentine's Day in Japan this year, I have to admit that I was a little reflective. These reflective moments only happen a few seconds every fortnight, but during this window of vulnerability, I found myself perusing the latest Dream Kitty email newsletter which (for pure entertainment purposes, of course, it's not like I'd ever buy anything from it). This issue was titled "Sweet Valentine's Gift Ideas from Dream Kitty."

Although I am technically a "subscriber" to the English version of the Dream Kitty newsletter, I usually delete it from my email in box right away, just to prove how uninterested I am in the Hello Kitty phenomenon. There is no limit to the Hello Kitty seasonal bling on offer, no matter what time of year. Christmas, birthdays and Valentine's Day. She probably even has a Hello Kitty Kwanzaa line. But you can't deny that Hello Kitty has touched the hearts of people all over the world with her products.

The goal of the newsletter is to assure us that no matter what it is in the world that we want, Hello Kitty is there to bring it to us in tri-fold pleasures of brash glitz, trendy bling and dollops of drippy kawaii-ness. After all, what does the die-hard Hello Kitty fan do once she's purchased a pink, glitterized Hello Kitty car? What else is left for her in life? The Dream Kitty newsletter gives these people hope.

It's surprising there is not a national holiday in Japan called Hello Kitty Day, marking the official day when the Felidaen phenom took over the world. She could appear on TV on NHK (the National Hello Kitty) network and could join passengers on the EVA Air brand-new Airbus A330-300s (with the fab feline painted on the outside) on Taipei-Japan routes, or those to Fukuoka Harmony Land, aka Hello Kitty Land (no joke!). And this is just her first life. She still has eight more to go.

Ten years ago I met the last person left in Japan who didn't know who Hello Kitty was. He was a Buddhist priest living in the Seto Inland Sea area, whose environment was so far removed from modern life that he didn't know who Hello Kitty was. And I told him. It marked the end of an era. I may never forgive myself.

Wondering what the exalted kitty-cat had on offer for Valentine's Day gifts, I began perusing the Dream Kitty newsletter. I was a little surprised at the first category of goods presented: "New Snoopy For Kitchen, Bath & Home." Oh well, dogs, cats, easily confused I suppose. I scrolled down to the next category: "Wrap It Up With Hello Kitty Gift Bags & Boxes." Strange, how am I supposed to wrap a gift if I haven't bought one yet? Whatever. Scroll.

Next was "Snoopy mugs and Hello Kitty storage solutions" with a tantalizing sentence describing "charming Snoopy mugs decorated in pink stripes and hearts" (I guess we're supposed to store our fresh brewed coffee in there?). At this point I started getting suspicious.

And then, there it was in full block letters, piercing straight through my Valentine heart: "Treat yourself or give as a gift to someone special." And you know who that someone special is, don't you? I can hear Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders singing, "I'm special, so special . . ." This newsletter is to encourage girls to buy things for themselves! After all, who else would buy this stuff?

Under the same storage solutions heading is "Hello Kitty earring stand in transparent pink with silver sparkles," which, honestly, sounds more like a storage problem than solution to me. Scroll.

"Hello Kitty Super Cute Tiaras, Clips & Bobbles." Feeling a bout of nausea coming on. Scroll, scroll.

Next, New Rilakkuma. So, we've gone from dogs to cats to bears. Where are the Valentine's Day gifts? I thought perhaps they were doing the save-the-best-for-last marketing ploy but then there was the sudden color change from the pink and red to dull brown Rilakkuma, perhaps representative of, well, chocolate?

Scrolling, a bit more furiously now, we come to "Totoro Storage Solutions: pencil case, cosmetics case, tissue cover." Since when is a tissue cover storage? There appears to be a translation problem with this word "storage." Perhaps the Japanese think "storage" means it is sold in a store. This "storage solution" is a tissue box cover. And it's pretty darn cute one, designed so that you pull the tissues out of Totoro's stomach while he is lying on his back. So what if it weighs 7 lbs and costs $112.59? Treat yourself! No, I won't get roped in! Scrolllllll. Surely we'll soon get to the Valentine's stuff.

Next category is "Popular & Trendy." It has possibilities although no probabilities. First, there's the "Luminous and lovely" Hello Kitty necklace for $99.00, then the Hello Kitty stud earrings for $69.99 and some more mugs, presumably for "storage."

Scroll. "Girl's Toys" features decorative hand soaps for the bathroom vanity and Himalaya Crystal Mineral Salt. Since when do girls play with salt? Go figure.

There are also a gazillion varieties of "Silver and crystal" necklaces which, even though they are really "metal and pieces of glass" for $14.99, I wouldn't classify as toys. I can see my mother up in heaven right now shaking her finger at me and yelling, "Be careful with that necklace — It's not a toy!"

Scroll. Nothing. That was the end of the newsletter? But what about the Valentine's Day gifts?! All of a sudden, the dark Kitty World descended upon me as I realized the reason I couldn't find any Valentine's Day gifts is because there aren't any. The newsletter was peddling gifts to give someone (yourself) or someone extra special (yourself), anytime, such as today.

Feeling fully cowed, kittied and Rilakkumad, I bought myself a Valentine's gift: The Himalaya Crystal Mineral Salt. I'm not sure what I'm going to cook with it, but I'm going to make something with chocolate, and I'm "Gonna use my, my, my imagination . . ." Sing it Chrissie!



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