I don’t care for Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m anti-romance — I just hate capitalism.
The scourge of the controversial holiday is nauseating here in Japan. Saccharine displays take up every shop window weeks ahead of time. Questionable ad campaigns stir up controversy. Women are unfairly expected to make and give away all the chocolatey goodness to every guy they know (though men supposedly reciprocate a month later on White Day). Ugh. Even when I am getting laid, the whole spectacle just annoys me.
So, naturally, I was chosen as the contributor to compile a series of reader-submitted 100-words (or fewer) love stories for GaijinPot this Valentine’s Day.
The result? You wonderful people opened your hearts to us and shared your experiences with love in Japan. There are stories of fairytale romances, missed connections and pepper jack cheese. Topics considered too taboo to openly discuss, like queer trysts and office romance, make steamy appearances. In total, about 40 people submitted, and though we were regrettably only able to select 10, every single one contained something valuable, authentic and thoughtful.
Y’all even made this cynic feel a little something this V-Day.
Japan taught me how to love, and allow myself to be loved by someone, unconditionally.
The reason my eardrums are still tickled by the fluttering interludes of Debussy. The backdrop for late-night sideways smiles leaning on door frames and early morning strolls to the post office, midday musings over washoku lunches on soft grassy knolls, sharing lives under umbrellas in the plum rain.
In the crazed fruits of the balmy Kansai air, I changed. We changed. I knew what it meant to feel alive. And for two people that couldn’t imagine ever deserving love, it meant—and continues to mean—everything.
He rang me on the first day of blossom. We watched Japan v Mali at The Hub in Umeda. He was visibly sweating in a hoodie, and I didn’t care for football. We left, sneaking like cats through tiny streets, laughing and running staircases until we found an underground bar where we wouldn’t be disturbed. I kept discretely trying to catch whiffs of his sweet oil. “It’s tsubaki,” he told me. His voice was deep. He spoke gently, with shyness and an intoxicating old soul energy. We parted between two subway lines, tenderly tracing hands with our fingertips.
One crisp autumn night, I was getting ready to go to solo karaoke.
My phone buzzed—it was a guy I’d met on an LGBT dating website, and we’d hit it off as the only queers in our countryside town.
“Wanna join me for karaoke?” I asked.
“Your friends gonna be there?”
“No, just me.”
He told me later that he’d taken out all his cards and extra money from his wallet, just in case I was a bully and a thief. The only thing I stole that night was his heart.
A Colourful Courtship
They stood by the vending machine at the corner. He glanced at his watch—he would need to return to work in seven minutes.
“My favorite color?”
“Yes, I suddenly realized I didn’t know, and it seems like something I should know about you before we get married.”
She dropped the empty can into the recycling bin.
“My favorite color is red,” she said.
Like your toothbrush, he thought. Tokyo Tower. The polish on your toenails on our first date.
They married on a red day under a blue sky and fell into their purple life together.
—Steph Newman, @tomodachito
A Steamy Sojourn
When I went to the Spa World hot spring theme park in Osaka, I decided to try the salt room (essentially a room filled with salt, I guess it’s good for your pores or something). As my eyeglasses fogged up, I could see two naked Japanese gentlemen wrapped in a heated embrace before awkwardly parting ways as I entered the room. A forbidden love, perhaps, but I was there for salt. I put some on my skin and left the two gentlemen behind. Not my love story, but a love story nonetheless.
Lost in Translation
“I don’t understand,” Takanobu admitted sheepishly while I sobbed into a One Cup sake. This wasn’t a language barrier; he spoke English just fine. No, the crime he committed was far more heinous. Despite trying to contain the rage festering inside of me, my tongue quickly spat, “You don’t understand? We’ve been dating for three months, Taka. I bought you a scarf for Valentines Day and you got me nothing! You’re an asshole!” Takanobu gazed at me in disbelief. He genuinely didn’t understand. After an endless moment of silence, he slowly replied, “In Japan, men give gifts on White Day.”
Love Lost and Left Behind
“Often while on the bus in Japan I think of love lost and left in America. Specifically the box of frozen samosas I never ate and an unfinished block of Pepper Jack cheese.”
Breaking the Rules
Office romance in Japan is nothing new. Probably in every company. And because it’s much of a hassle, I vowed to myself to never engage in it.
Until recently. I had a random coffee break with this “admired-by-everyone guy” in the office. Yeah, he’s cute but I never even thought he’d notice me. But guess what? Since we’ve had that good conversation over coffee, everything has changed. We’ve seen each other a lot and I feel like I’m falling, and if this means breaking my own rule, then so be it.
Singing to the Same Tune
I went alone to a karaoke bar and ended up sitting next to what turned out to be a really great guy who was so much fun! Even with his broken English and my broken Japanese we laughed and sang and drank till 3 a.m. Three months later I randomly returned to the same bar with some friends and he was there. After that, we both went to that bar almost every night just hoping to run into each other. Two years later and we are getting married this Valentine’s Day. So when you’re reading this, I’m probably saying “I do.”
Searching for Love in All the Right Places
Japan will always have a special place in my heart as that is where I fell in love. Six years ago, I traveled from The Netherlands to Japan for an archaeological excavation. This was my first time in Japan. There, on a small fishing island off the coast of Hokkaido, I met another archaeologist who had traveled from Canada. His first time in Japan. Within just six weeks together, we had fallen head over heels. One year later, I moved to Canada. We’ve gone back to that small island, twice, and will continue returning the rest of our lives.
—Victoria van der Haas
Stories have been minimally edited for clarity.