Valentine’s Day in Japan

If you’ve lived in Asia before, this may sound familiar. For those of you who have never been, particularly those in America, you may know Valentine’s Day as a holiday where, traditionally, it is expected that the man makes a grand gesture of sorts to show his love for his partner. That has changed a lot with the times, but with that in mind, Japan flips the script: Women give men the gifts. And one gift is the gold standard nowadays: Homemade chocolates. But that may also be changing with the times, too.

Hand-making Chocolates

Are you a woman? Do you have feelings for them? Then make them some home-made chocolates! This has become the standard gift to give on Valentine’s Day in Japan, with supermarkets, 100 yen shops, and lifestyle stores setting out all manner of chocolate molds, cookware, and delicious chocolates themselves for intrepid women to melt down and craft into their own. Some stay very traditional but others, who may be more health-conscious, can replace the cream and butter with tofu!

Obligation Chocolates (Giri Choco 義理チョコ)

Here’s where the times are changing: It’s not so much that women don’t want to give chocolates to their loved ones, it’s that they are also expected to give chocolate to coworkers and acquaintances. You know, those who they do not have romantic feelings for. These chocolates are bought out of a sense of obligation, hence their very literal name Giri Choco, or obligation chocolates. Usually, the quality of chocolate dips considerably, with most women opting to buy the incredibly dirt-cheap Black Thunder (which, last year, really touted itself as the Giri Choco royals) to fulfill the requirement. [black thunder video below]

However, things are changing. Companies are seeing the mandatory gifting as a form of power harassment and have begun banning the practice. Chocolate power-house Godiva has taken out full-page newspaper ads denouncing the practice. It seems the paradigm is shifting away from this tradition, focusing more on giving chocolate only to those you truly love (which may include some much-needed self-love as well!).

Men are expected, of course, to reciprocate on March 14, White Day, with cookies and gifts for the lovely ladies in their lives, but the expectations are such that Giri Cookies do not really exist. Time will tell how long until Giri anything disappears and becomes nothing more than an odd footnote in Japanese holiday history.

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