the ‘Romantic places’ farce in Japanese culture

Posted on 14.02.2015



advertisement for the Tokyo Skytree on Valentine’s Day: a ‘romantic’ place to visit. Also wildly overpriced.

There are quite a few things here that I can’t totally wrap my head around, and most of them in some way come back to the idea that women are still almost second-class citizens, living in the 40’s, expected to get a man, get pregnant and quit life. I’m going to address them all eventually. This one though is appropriate for the time: Valentine’s day.

Valentine’s day in Japan is a little different from VD in the rest of the world: on this day, women buy chocolate for men, ONLY. There’s a separate day, ‘White Day’, on March 14, for when men should buy women gifts. Hallmark would love Japan. Hallmark DOES love Japan.

A while back, a student told me that when he tried to kiss his newish girlfriend on the street after returning home from a long trip, she rejected him. Not because of his breath, or how she felt about him, but because the place he’d tried to kiss her ‘wasn’t romantic enough’.

I have never, in my memory, ever refused a kiss from my boyfriend due to the ‘lack of romance’ in a given location. The only times I can recall ever NOT kissing boyfriends have been because their breath was horrible, or I was really, really angry at them, or they were tied up and the point was NOT to kiss them.

Since then, I’ve been asking my students (mostly male, so the results might be skewed or incorrect) about this idea of ‘romance’. A lot of them have told me that most women place huge expectations on a ‘first kiss’, and apparently NEED it to be dramatic, romantic, etc. Not for themselves, per se, but to make their friends jealous? This has literally been said by about 4 different people, so I’m not sure if this is true or just ‘what men think’, but I guess it makes sense.

In the above photo, you can see that the Skytree is advertising for lovers on Valentine’s Day. It’s considered a ‘romantic spot’. Says who? Pay a lot of money to go to the top and drink expensive drinks and just look at the city. I think something might be wrong with my brain, if I don’t understand how this is romantic, but apparently everyone else does.

Tokyo Disney is considered to be ‘romantic’, too. This, along with the idea that actual adults want to go there, sans kids, more than once a year, is totally baffling to me. But in my unsure American mind, I think these things might be related.

Disney is perhaps MORE popular over here than it is in the states, and this country’s population is 1/3 that of the US. But women of all ages are totally obsessed with Disney, and go there multiple times per year to go shopping and collect piles and piles of Disney-themed merchandise. And it’s not even Cinderella or Ariel they buy. It’s Mickey and Minnie, which is even MORE confusing to me.

However, with a love of Disney usually comes plenty of false ideas about what love and relationships look like, what my wedding should look like, and the idea that ‘happily ever after’ is a real thing that actually exists. In my mind, any woman who wants an *actual* Cinderella wedding at that Neuschwanstein copy in the Magic Kingdom is headed straight for an eventual divorce, because they have no idea what a *real* relationship looks like.

To me, ‘romantic’ is when my boyfriend does nice things for me that are meaningful and/or helpful. Like cleaning the entire house while I focus on the kitchen (he’s done this multiple times, btw).

I’m really confused by, and interested in these strange ideas about what is ‘romantic’ here in Japan, because they are putting a huge amount of pressure on young guys to out-do themselves just to get a kiss. Imagine having to go to Disney (or places like it, we have TWO here!!) more than once a year, just to keep your girlfriend happy. God, I’d probably break my ankles to get out of it. But it seems like women place a really high value on this, and get upset or angry if their boyfriends don’t take them to these romantic places. You’re just going to go there and take a damn selfie (or 50), so why all of the stress?

What I find even more interesting, though, is that apparently a lot of this ‘trying to be romantic’ stops as soon as there’s a wedding. Game, set, match? More research is definitely needed.

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