Will you be my obligatory Valentine?

Since coming to Japan, I have witnessed many a foreign female rant disapprovingly about how the infamous Valentine’s Day is celebrated here. Personally, it amuses me, partly because I didn’t care much about the Hallmark holiday in Canada anyways, and partly because it’s always amusing to witness people getting worked up over anything – when gender’s involved, all the better. So, what’s the deal with Japanese V-day? Well, here’s what I’ve observed…

1. Girls/women give gifts to boys/men, never the other way around.


Yes, it’s true – and therein lays the root of many a foreign female’s discontent. The primary gift-giving that occurs on V-day is a gift of (usually) chocolate, called 義理チョコ “giri-choco” in Japanese, which literally means “obligation chocolate.” Females give this chocolate of duty to their male counterparts in workplaces across the country, and chocolate companies make a killing off them – half their annual sales, to be exact. Thankfully, my office is pretty small, only three men and five women, including myself. I paid 500 yen into a “buy men chocolate” fund, duty accomplished.

2. Boys/men reciprocate a month later on “White Day.”

As I haven’t witnessed White Day for myself, I cannot comment authoritatively on this. But from what I’ve heard, though the giving is based on the obligation to reciprocate, the males apparently give much less to fewer people, compared to what they received a month earlier. Seeing as I didn’t bother giving giri-choco to anyone other than the three men in my office, I don’t know how accurate an experience I’ll have in a month’s time, but we shall see. My husband, on the other hand, is dreading White Day, as he was given piles of gifts, and has no hope of remembering all the faces from whom they came.

3. Many younger girls opt out of the system, and just give gifts to their other female friends.

Tomo-choco I received from one of my students: decorated marshmallows!

Reportedly, some men are lamenting this as the impending death of Valentine’s Day in Japan. This type of giving, called 友チョコ “tomo-choco” (friend chocolate), worked well for me, at least; I was given an assortment of baked goods, chocolates and decorated marshmallows by some of my female students. But the boys have by no means dropped their expectations. On my way through the halls after decorating cookies with my English Club yesterday, I was assailed by a group of baseball boys, requesting – no, more like demanding – chocolate. “Chocolate me!” they cried, hunger in their eyes, and I wasn’t even carrying any chocolate. I laughed, and told them to go ask the girls in the English Club room for cookies, and they looked horrified at the suggestion. Talk to girls? 無理です “muri desu” (impossible)! No wonder the girls don’t give them chocolate.

4. Romancing between couples is not the focal point.

You may have deduced this already, from what I’ve written above, but allow me to clarify. Women can give gifts to the men they are “serious” about, 本命チョコ “honmei-choco” (favourite chocolate), and the men are expected to reciprocate with gifts 2-3 times the value on White Day. However, compared to Canada where V-day seems to be the biggest date night of the year, in Japan that trophy is still overwhelmingly carried by Christmas Eve. But that’s another story entirely.

All things considered, I had a great Valentine’s Day, but for a completely unrelated reason: it snowed, all day! Whether one prefers Valentine’s Day or White Day, or both or neither, in my mind nothing can possibly be wrong with a White Valentine’s Day!


2 thoughts on “Will you be my obligatory Valentine?

  1. I very much enjoy reading all your stories. I always seem to find a laugh or two in them…thanks! Miss you both.

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