Its February, and while I’m not the lovey-dovey type, there is a Valentines’ Day in Japan. In fact, it’s probably one of the most ‘Japanized’ holidays out there. So, whether you live in Japan, or are just interested in learning more, here’s an intro to the Japanese version of that one special day of love, loneliness, and angst.
The Big Deal
In Japan, Valentines’ day is February 14th. There aren’t any religious connotations connected with St. Valentines, instead it’s mostly about the chocolate. Here, girls give chocolate to boys. Japanese guys don’t have to worry about asking their favorite girl on a date, or bring her presents. It’s up to the women folk to show the guys who they like by presenting them with chocolate.
To Giri or not to Giri
There are two categories of chocolate [choko] girls give. Giri chocolate is store-bought and is usually for friends, family, or classmates. It has about the same love-interest equivalent to those little “be my valentine” cards you gave out in elementary school.
The other kind of chocolate is homemade [honmei choko]. A girl can show her interest by making some kind of chocolate by hand, be it cake, candy, cookie, or burnt smudge. This is where the angst comes in. Boys worry about what kind, and how much chocolate they’ll get. Girls worry about showing their feelings, or even not showing enough.
When it comes down to it, there’s just as much worry and thought about Valentines’ Day in Japan as any other country that celebrates a similar holiday, but somewhere along the lines, boys got a bit of a pass. On the flip side, girls shop, bake and worry about what to get.
Annoyed? Aghast? Don’t fret! Next month is White Day.
More on Chocolate
The idea behind Giri chocolate is to give a well-meaning gift to a friend, family member, teacher, etc. It’s almost expected, like an “obligation” (with the understanding a return gift will be on its way the next month). It’s a holiday just as actively promoted and supported by stores and candy makers in Japan, as it is in America.
Chocolate is also a lot more expensive in Japan than many other places. The size and type of the gifts will vary behind the meaning behind it.
At one of the schools I used to teach at, every year the female teachers would get together and buy all the male teachers a small gift. It had the connotation of “you are our friends and co-workers.” The next year, they did the same, though the person who ordered the gifts instead opted to get the guys “unko-chan” (see the character on the right) branded soy sauce bottles filled with little bits of chocolate. Confused? So was just about everyone else. It definitely had the connotation “ha! It’s poo!” (a whole other post). She got a laugh though.
As with many things in Japan, the more effort it takes to do something, the more meaning it has. Like the portable shrines at Japanese Festivals, homemade chocolate takes more time and energy, and thus has more meaning. It might be a harrowing experience for a young girl to attempt a homemade gift, but so too is it a chance for her to express herself in a society that may provide fewer opportunities to do so than the West. All in all its an interesting twist on the holiday, and one that seems very ‘Japanese’ to me.
What will you do for Valentines’ Day?