Shiroi Koibito

Brand: Ishiya Co., Ltd.

Cost: 700 yen for 12 cookies

Found at: Break Room (from Hokkaido)

The problem with the jump between Japanese and English is not the grammar, not the vocabulary, not even the overflow of verb structures on either side of the divide. The issue, it seems, is that of the utter failure direct translation. For example, in Japanese, you might say “you must be tired” to mean “you’ve worked hard today” to mean “good work people” to mean “I’m now leaving the office, now.” But if you said, “you must be tired” to your English-speaking coworkers, the best you’d get would be a baffled answer such as “yes” or “no, not really.” It’s not a translation error, it’s a cultural gap. Suffice it to say that f I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to say something like: “Yes, its correct, but we just don’t say that,” I could retire from English teaching.

The same is true of shiroi koibito – literally “white lover.” I still remember the tittering amongst the college freshmen when the teacher brought in a box of these little, square cookies in their little green packaging. White lover, to us, had such a wonderfully salacious undertone – a fact that was not lost to our Japanese teacher, who was desperately trying to gesture away our immaturity. As we munched on these sugar cookies filled with white chocolate, she tried to explain the correlation of white snow and pale skin and innocence and young love. Kanji were written, stories were told, lines were drawn between things, a small play was acted out for our benefit – after all, she’d not brought these all the way from Hokkaido to have us misunderstand them. By the end of the class, we grasped three things: that nothing should be translated as “lover,” that that these cookies are delicious, and that our teacher was very passionate about her omiyage(souvenirs).

So, if you ever go to Hokkaido – or Narita airport – pick up a box of white loversto bring home. Not only because they are delicious, but because they make an excellent conversation piece.

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