Photo:Manish Prabhune on Flickr

Happy Valentine's Day from Japan!

We have all noticed the increase in sweetness these days. We have all stopped by the shelves and had a look at the different packaging. We have all started to think about whom to give sweets to. We have all wondered why so early.

We're still greeting people with new year's wishes and yet the first chocolates are popping up everywhere, just like mushrooms after a few days of mist....yes, Valentine's day is approaching and the marketing machine already started accordingly, in order to provide consumers with more than one reason to shop.


In Japan there is a rather unique tradition that accompanies the day universally dedicated to lovers, which consists in a one-way gift giving. Basically, on Valentine's day girls and women give sweets or chocolate gifts to the boys and men they care about, either sweethearts or friends.

If the sweets are hand-made, and I can ensure you there are way too many DIY kits out there, their sentimental value is higher. Those are usually in store for boyfriends or husbands, or sometimes are also prepared for some guy a girl wants to show interest to...a very indirect, discrete declaration of love. Often, chocolate is given also to female friends, as a sign of sincere and deep friendship.



Now, the Japanese feel a lot of social pressure and are concerned a lot about kindness at all costs and correctness...because of that, there couldn't be a gift only for the loved ones, or it would show preference of some sort; this could cause friction in the social circles. The solution to that was to also give chocolate to coworkers, for instance, and to all the others one is not romantically involved. This kind of chocolate is called "giri choco", and means that it is an obligation-driven gift, as opposed to the gift given to loved ones that's called "honmei choco".

This trick works wonders, and every year this time around women flock to the stores to buy A LOT of sweet gifts. The business industry doesn't help in keeping women away from it, for obvious money-making reasons, and so there come books on baking and cooking in bookstores, kitchen utensils in home living stores, chocolate in all flakes, colors and sizes, powders, sugars, decorations, blah blah blah in supermarkets. It is, in a word, full-on.



But I mentioned before a one-way gift giving...unlike non-asian countries where Valentine's day symbolizes love and hence couples exchange presents or do something romantic to honor their bond, here in Japan (and Korea and China, I believe) only males receive gifts. Whether there was a specific reason for this to happen or it has always been like that, I can't precisely say. But starting from the late 1970's, the confectionery industry association had a great idea and another event made its debut, with great success as a matter of fact: the White day on March 14th. It's on this precise day that men have to show appreciation for what they received just a month earlier and have return the gesture, by buying sweets and chocolates (or flowers, jewels and the like for the significant ones) for the females. It is customary that the gifts bought by men are of higher value than those females bought for them.

Anyhow, what you'll be seeing in all stores, supermarkets and confectioneries is going to be sweets, chocolate, hearts and romantic stuff all over the place. Right in your face. Until middle March. Then it will all vanish, and it will all look like a dream.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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