Valentine’s Day has become a special day for loved ones not only in the U.S., but in Asia as well. As a child, I recall the writing Valentine cards to my close friends, even though I went to an all girls school. But when I started working in Tokyo, I realized Valentine’s Day was not practiced the same in Japan as other countries for they’ve put their own spin on it.
Here in the states, the standard universal gift on Valentine’s Day is chocolate and it’s a way of expressing “thinking of you”, regardless of gender or age. You can give chocolates to friends, colleagues, teachers, mailmen, and even grandparents. However, in Japan, on Valentine’s Day it has become customary for only women to give chocolates or a gift to men. On the other hand, the men don’t do anything for their loved ones on this particular day and instead are just recipients of these kind gestures. So if you happened to be a Westernized male in Japan, you will be rather confused if you’re unaware of this custom.
Now the women classify the men into two catagories:
- “Honmei-choco” : Honmei “the real one”, meaning the special love interest in your life and “choco” is just short for chocolate.
- “Giri Choco”. (The Japanese love to create new words for every occasion.) “Giri” is Japanese for “obliged”, “choco” again chocolate, so combined it means “the obligatory chocolate”
So, if honmei choco is your true love, giri choco is for all the other male figures in your life such as, collegues, relatives, friends and any one else you feel the need to give something to so they won’t feel left out. If you happen to have a lot of male friends it may end up costing you a bundle! However, never fear as all Japanese don’t like to just receive, they like to give. The men get a chance to return the favor on March 14, which the Japanese have designated as “White Day“. Boy, those marketing people sure know how to get everyone to keep the economy going!
I remember shopping for “giri-choco” for all the older men in my office, who were my father’s age. They looked so happy to get chocolate from all of us and everybody was in a good mood for the rest of the day. Even though it may have started as an “obligatory” act, it really has become a time when one can say “thank you” to those men around us.
Wishing everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day!