Tuesday 13 February 2018

Valentine's Day Japanese Style: Friendship, Obligation, or Love?

One of my very first posts when the blog started last March introduced White Day, the day when men give gifts to women as a thank-you for the gifts they received today, Valentine's Day. Valentines Day in Japan, in contrast to the UK, is an exclusively one-way affair, with women giving chocolate to men. In that earlier post, I explained that there are three kinds of Valentine gifts: (1) tomo (friend) choco typically exchanged by schoolgirls and often handmade,  (2) giri (obligation) choco usually given to co-workers in an office or perhaps to a teacher as a sign of thanks - or just because everyone else is doing it - and the much rarer (3) honmei (true feeling) choco given with romantic intent.

This year there have been a couple of interesting advertising moves. One is encouraging people to buy chocolates as a treat or reward for themselves (watashi ni gohōbi o =私にご褒美を). The second, perhaps related development, was Belgium chocolate company Godiva's full page newspaper ad calling on Japanese (women) to stop buying giri choco (Nihon wa giri choco o yameyō =日本は義理チョコをやめよう). The text focuses on the stress giri choco causes women who "have to spend mental energy and money" on buying chocolates for all their male colleagues "for the sake of smooth relations at work."

It's going to be difficult to change ingrained social habits, especially considering the important place giri (social obligation or duty) has in Japanese society, though some bosses have reportedly been telling their subordinates to stop the giri choco practice. In contrast, however, tomo choco seems to be going from strength to strength. As explained above, in contrast to the lack of "pure feelings" (to quote Godiva) typical of the commercial giri choco, tomo choco is more a labour of love, a platonic gesture celebrating friendship by giving (usually) hand-made (te-zukuri =手作り) customised chocolates to friends. At the moment, our kitchen is filled with boxes of Oreos, white Ghana bars (a popular brand of creamy chocolate), and packs of cream cheese which apparently will soon miraculously transform into 120 Cookies and Cream Truffle balls (recipe here). These will be carefully placed in individual decorated bags (available from any ¥100 shop at this time of year) and given out to friends at school on the day. In return they will bring back a mountain of the most varied hand-made cookies and chocolates you can imagine, carefully eaten over the next few weeks (and rarely shared with parents!).