Friday, February 15, 2013

Breaking Down Valentine's Day in Japan

Yesterday was Valentine's Day and proved to be a pretty good day for your's truly so I thought I would jot down a few thoughts about the experience.

First off, Valentine's Day in Japan and other East Asian countries is pretty different from what we know in the west. Let me break it down for you.

What's the same?

  • Celebrated on February 14th
  • Chocolate is most commonly associated gift item
  • Highly commercialized LOVE-themed holiday

  • In Japan, generally women give the chocolate
  • Chocolate is divided into two types based on the giver's intention; giri-choco (GEE-lee CHOE-koe) and honmei-choco (Hone-may CHOE-koe)
  • Receiver can be a male co-worker, a male teacher, a male crush, etc. 
  • Men return the gift on March 14th, aka White Day (see explanation below)
  • Gifts are exchanged regardless of gender
Now, the giri-choco(late) is a gift of courtesy chocolate that should be given to a male co-worker or male teacher. You might ask "why". Because it is Valentine's Day. Its just custom and social pressure may dictate. It is usually a small gift of chocolate, not very expensive, and can be easily bought in a convenience store or department store. 
From the lovely ladies at the law office.
From one of my students.

The honmei-choco(late), on the other hand, carries with it a bit more sincere, and deeper meaning.
Honemei-choco is given to a male co-worker, teacher, or other crush and is usually given in the form of homemade chocolate fudge, cookies, or sometimes a more extravagant store-bought candy. 
In fact, they sell little kits for making home made chocolates and sweets for just this purpose. 

I think you realize then that there maybe some overlap and thus could be hard to tell the difference between a gift of giri-choco and a gift of honmei-choco. 
Understanding the difference is important for the next step. Unsure about what kind of chocolate you just received? Click here to figure out what your chocolate means.

After you figure out what kind of chocolate you received, the gentleman should proceed as follows. 

If it is a gift of giri-choco, the guy is to return the favor with a gift of white chocolate, marshmallow, cookies, or candies on the specially designated White Day, March 14th. A holiday started by confectionaries in Japan for the man to return the gift to the woman or women he received something from on Valentine's Day. Click here for the detailed wikipedia page on White Day

If it is a honmei-choco gift and the guy is romantically inclined towards the woman, then its up to the guy to reply soon with an invite for a date. If he isn't so inclined, then he can simply return the gift with something suitable on White Day (March 14th) and not say anything further. If it is the former, and the guy is interested, I guess technically he could wait until March 14th but that would be pushing it by this American's standards. And if you can't figure that out for yourself, then she probably just wasted some good flow on your sorry butt. IMHO. :-P

Anyway, there you have it. Valentine's Day: EAST VS WEST. 

Happy Valentine's Day! May it rain chocolate on you.  

Thanks for reading. 


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