it’s so weird. sometimes the smallest choices, made almost without thinking, can have the most unexpected consequences. There’s a term used in the common language for this sort of phenomenon: The Butterfly Effect.
Giving thanks at the shrine.
Now the new Ashton Kutcher movie of the same name not withstanding, the basic idea of the “Butterfly Effect” is that the smallest of events can have impossibly large ramifications farther down the line. It is usually phrased as a question, such as “can a butterfly flapping its wings in China cause a tornado in New York the next day?” or some variant there within. In essence, talk of the “Butterfly Effect” is yet another example of scientists’ love for analogies which attemp to sum up important and mysterious physical phenomenon in “catch phrases” that can easily be related to and passed on by a layperson.
I first read about the “butterfly effect” in the book “Chaos: Making a new Science”

The Butterfly Effect aquired a technical name: sensitive dependence on initial conditions. And sensitive dependence on inital conditions was not an altogether new notion. It had a place in folklore:
“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For want of a rider, the battle was lost;
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost!”
In science as in life, it is well known that a chain of events can have a point of crisis that could magnify small changes. But chaos meant that such points were everywhere. They were pervasive. In systems like the weather, sensitive dependence on initial conditions was an inescapeable consequence of the way small scales interwined with large. (pg. 15)

Zoology chocolate: “The British naturalist, Charles Darwin, devoted most of his life to the study of the evolution of animals.”
Sometimes these consequences are inconsequential. Sometimes they are massive and life-altering. Sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they’re bad. Sometimes you get the real ass end of the deal. And sometimes, just sometimes, you luck out and manage to barely sidestep the massive life-altering bad variety by a hair’s breath. At those moments, you count your lucky stars, start to re-examine the context of your belief (or previous lack thereof) in god, and basically give thanks that you’ve managed to avoid majorly fucking your life up and can instead continue on your merry, obliviously bumbling path through life.
Ailuropoda Melanoleuca – Or “Giant Panda” as they’re more commonly known!
I don’t have anything else to add about chaos, butterflies or how every once in a while the Universe or God, or whatever, conspires to throw me a bone and help me out of a tight spot, just that I’m extremely grateful that I’m about to carry on my happy carefree panda life, only a little bit wiser and certainly a bit more cautious for the future.
(The book, by the way, is a fascinating, if somewhat obtuse read. I recommend it if you have some time on your hands and are willing to slog through a less-than-accessible writing style to get at some concepts you may have heard of in passing but don’t really know much about.)
Opening the box to my tasty treat sensation! This was expensive chocolate!
On to lighter subjects, I’d like to brag a bit about my tremendous haul of chocolates this past Valentine’s Day. As I mentioned in my previous post, Valentine’s day is done a bit differently here in Japan. Unlike the states, in the Land of Bean Paste and The Rising Sun, only girls give guys chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Guys get to return the favor later in March on White Day, but that’s such an incredibly lame marketing invention I won’t sully this holy panda ground by talking about it.
Of course giving Chocolate, like so many things in Japan, is hardly the innocent, sweet-looking spur-of-the-moment occurence it initially appears to be, but is rather a fascinating, yet disturbing, manifestation of deep and complex cultural interactions underlying the enigmatic workings of modern Japanese society.
The incredibly cute panda chocolate…! This was so cool!
One of the best examinations I have ever read of the practice of giving chocolate in Japanese society is found in Yuko Ogasawara’s book “Office Ladies and Salaried men: Power, Gender and Work in Japanese Companies”. In it, she addresses the role of “giri choco” (literally: “Obligation chocolate”) and the obscure ways in which OL’s (“office ladies” – low ranking female employees in a company which perform a variety of “menial work”, including filing, copying and serving tea) utilize the practice of “gifting” male co-workers and bosses with chocolate in order to exercise complex forms of “soft power” in the workplace.

“a woman and her friend who worked in a mortgage company contrived to give their boss, whom they disliked, fewer boxes of chocolate than other men in the section. Their conclusion was for each woman to give a box to each man except the boss, and for three women to give a box jointly to the boss. In other words, the boss received only two boxes, whereas each of the rest of the men received six. Their revenge on their boss was subtle, because they decided to spend an equal amount of money for the boss and for each of the other men – the boss’s chocolates were more expensive than those given to the others. However, she emphasized, “On Valentine’s Day, the number is definitely what matters.” She derived considerable satisfaction from the fact that the boss, unaware of the women’s malicious feelings contained in the gifts, too simpleminded delight in receiving them.
You didn’t think I was NOT gonna eat him, did you!? (^_^)v
Another woman and her female coworkers also gave broken pieces of chocolate to their boss, whom they disliked. “We wanted to do something more fun than just not giving him any chocolate. We pressed the chocolate bar with our fingers all over the wrapping,” she explained. She suspected that the boss had understood their message, because the chocolate was broken into such little pieces that it was apparent the damage was not the result of an accident. “Of course, he said think you, but I’m sure he realized…. You can call it a childish act, but we enjoyed it!”
Thus Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for some OL’s to manifest a spirit of resistence. They get a chuckle out of the fact that men can be made happy by trivial boxes of chocolate. They also take delight in devising various tactics, such as giving fewer boxes, delaying the time to give, and presenting broken chocolate, to further “poison” their gifts to men.
Eeeps!! Poor disembodied choco-panda-head!
What is equally, if not more important than women’s temporary empowerment is the fact that holiday provides otherwise divisive OLs an opportunity to unite. As we have seen in chapter 2, OLs in general lack solidarity. It is rare for them to form a united front on issues such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and discriminatory company policies. However, we have also noted that OLs join together to gossip about men, and indeed enjoy doing so. In preparing for Valentine’s Day, women often gather to discuss whether to give chocolate to a man. Just as with gossip, the holiday provides an occasion for OLs to jointly assess men.
Does this technically make me a cannibal-panda?
In his remarkable studies on “weapons of the weak” (1985 and 1990), James Scott describes how subordinate groups resort to disguised resistance. He identifies two modes of concealment: anonymity or the technique of disguising the messenger; and ambiguity or the technique of diguising the message itself. My research on Valentine’s Day gift-giving in Japanese Offices shows that temporary empowerement is similarly successful in two ways: first, by passing judgement on men that reflects the opinion of all the women, and second, by keeping the meaning of the chocolate intentionally obscure.” (pgs.104-106)

Wow! So what does all this have to do with anything? Well, first of, I highly suggest you go out and find a copy of this book and read it – it makes a lot of interesting observations about the complexities underlying gender roles in Japanese society (with some surprising conclusions). Secondly, as was noted above, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, the number of chocolates you snag matters!
As they say, “eventually, all good things must come to an end”…
Now in many places, as I mentioned, there exists the concept of “giri choco” (obligation chocolate). These are chocolates that are given because the givers are obligated to do so. However, this sort of phenomenon is not found in school staffrooms, which means that for mistar panda to amass his little stash of chocolate, he had to be genuinely nice to some people ;) Which he was (for the most part *giggles*), and which explains why he has gained about 2 kg since Saturday (^_^);;
Anyway, while I aim to get even more chocolates next year (for example, my darling M appears to have forgotten her obligation to me, though in all fairness, she probably did buy me chocolate, but just ate it before she got around to giving it to me, as seems to be her modus operandi (just ask her father, who got a box of super expensive Godaiva chocolates, only to have them snatched straight from his had not one second later so they could be devoured by his ravenous daughters)) I was overjoyed with my haul this year (it’s like one big popularity contest, i tell ya!) and particularly chuffed to bits with the super cool panda chocolate which you can see in the pictures above. That one must have cost a fortune!!
This was the greatest chocolate I’ve ever tasted! I hate 12 pieces in 10 minutes.
Anyway, I hope everyone else had a great Valentine’s day. I didn’t manage to make it down to Osaka, but found another similarly-ditched friend and together went to watch Love Actually, which is a british love comedy that is really funny and sweet and happy and all that other rainbow sunshiney stuff that will make you want to jump around and love life. Or each other. Plus it had a great soundtrack.
One bit of commentary: girls in Wisconsin are not that hot…!!! Take it from the panda. I know.
Not chocolate persay, but still incredibly tasty!
Okay, take it easy then. And happy Presidents Day to those of you stateside!
Now listening to: “Blur – Song 2 (Woo Hoo)”
(I just heard this song on the bmwfilm “Star” (starring Madonna and Clive Owen, directed by Guy Ritchie). I love this song…!)
10:05 am

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