In honor of Valentine’s Day I wanted to share an interesting story I read about how gifts are done in Japan. On February 14th women are supposed to give men dark chocolate. Exactly one month later, on March 14th, men are supposed to return the favor by giving women white chocolate. This day has become known as “White Day” in Japan. I don’t know how women got stuck with white, but I like the idea of dedicating another day of the year to chocolate gift-giving. I must begin the search for a good white chocolate recipe now…
Here is the original article as published in the A Taste of Culture newsletter:
Valentine’s Day, a relatively new phenomenon here, has become a truly Japanese occasion. Here, women give gifts of dark chocolate to men on February 14. Like other culinary customs adapted from non-native sources (eating elaborately decorated cakes on Christmas eve immediately comes to mind…), the Japanese version of Valentine’s Day combines some of the original, foreign practices with distinctively Japanese ones — in particular, reciprocity in gift giving. Recipients on February 14th are then expected to give an okaeshi, or “return gift,” of white chocolate a month later. In Japan, March 14 has been designated as “White Day” (though in America that name would be more likely to indicate a bargain sale on sheets and towels).
Occasionally in Japan, the presentation of chocolate to a gentleman does indicate romantic interest on the part of the woman, but most often it does not. Since love can be fickle, or go unrequited, declaring one’s affection is risky, causing a loss of face when feelings are not matched. To avoid bruised egos, the Japanese retail community came up with an innovation solution: giri choco. Giri is a guilt-laden word used to describe obligations (and, relatives acquired through marriage!); choco is the affectionate abbreviation for chocolate.
Enormous pressure is brought to bear upon OL (“office ladies” who serve tea and file correspondence for male executives) to present chocolate to their bosses and other men at the workplace. At school, girls are urged to give chocolate to their male teachers. And in the home setting, fathers, uncles and grandfathers receive chocolate trinkets from daughters, nieces and granddaughters.
Example gifts include:
This photo has the caption: giri choco demo ureshii (Even if its obligatory, it still makes me happy!)
(scroll down to see hand-made chocolates for daddy…)
Most gifts of chocolate are store-bought. This year’s top ranking item is a Car Mania Set (chocolate wrenches, bolts, and other mechanics’ paraphernalia).
Happy Valentine’s Day!