Monday, February 9, 2015

Valentine's Day in Japan

Some Japanese write their wishes for romance and marriage on heart-shaped plaques at a shrine, in hopes a god of love will take note

V-Day is almost here, folks. The dread of singles because it’s such a celebration of couples: women have high hopes of being spoiled, so they can boast on social media about how great their SO is; men wrack their brains to come up with something she’ll not sulk over for a month.

It’s totally different in Japan.

The reserved Japanese are not into lavish displays of affection, or intimate date nights, or romantic flings outside the pages of a manga. They are, however, very much into reciprocal gift-giving, high-quality chocolate, and nonverbal hints of flirtation.

So this is how it works in Japan: on Valentine’s Day, women give gifts of chocolate to their male friends and co-workers. Yes, everyone. It's not very romantic, but it is chocolatey. At the end of January, chocolate fairs and events start popping up in department stores all over town. These days, foreign designer chocolates are all the rage. $3 and up per mouthful of the most elite brands. I have walked through some of these places. It looks more like jewelry than edibles! If you’re lucky enough to get a free sample, it’s like you've died and gone to heaven…or you might secretly think a simple Hershey’s bar is a better fit to your uncultured palate. Single or taken, I’m pretty sure  chocolate lovers would enjoy V-Day in Japan.

So where’s the romance? It’s in what’s called “honmei-choco” or “true feelings chocolate”. An elaborately-wrapped box of the above luxury chocolate would be understood to be mere “giri-choco” or “chocolate out of duty”—the proper gift for your boss and inhabitants of your friend-zone. True-love chocolate, on the other hand, needs to have a personal touch and is best if it’s homemade (i.e., melted down and poured in a mold, or made into truffles). This gives women a Sadie Hawkins chance to declare their feelings for the male object of their affections. Young girls who can’t be bothered either with social niceties or romance give each other “tomo-choco” , “friendship chocolate”. It’s very cute—think tiny chocolate Hello Kitties for girls and wee chocolate bullet trains for boys.

If it seems unfair that the onus is on women to procure chocolate and spoil the men in their lives, never fear, Japanese reciprocity is here! Men must keep track of all the chocolates received and the approximate monetary value and return the favor, unfortunately not necessarily with chocolate, a month later on “White Day,” March 14th. It is a totally Japanese-made holiday, since in this country it would probably rip a hole in the universe if you received a gift without giving one in return. Hopefully, those who gave true-love chocolate will be rewarded with a date before March.

Since living in Japan, I've made true-love homemade chocolates for my husband each year. I enjoy it—it’s an excuse to try some of the recipes on Pinterest for all those guilty-pleasure sweets. And of course I eat as I cook. I've also given duty-chocolates to my husband’s housemates and my male co-workers, though these days I wonder about it...since if I give them something, they will feel obliged to give ME something, so maybe it’s best to just not even start the vicious cycle?

I've also suggested to hubby that we do things more American style, and not worry about White Day a month later (too easily forgotten) but just pick up some Krispy Kremes for me the day of and call it good.

Either way, I think the bottom line of Valentine’s Day is to be sweet to each other, a big plus if this includes actual consumption of sweets. Japan is the ideal environment for this kind of Valentine's Day, so you will never catch me complaining!


Thanks for reading, be nice!