What do you enjoy reading the most here on my blog?

Search My Blog

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day: The Japanese Way

Here in America, we see Valentine's Day as a "Hallmark holiday" with no roots or foundation and an excuse for couples to flaunt their happiness while single people mope/rant about couples flaunting their happiness. The color is red, whether to celebrate all things heart-shaped and sweet - or to rage against them. The candy of choice is chocolate (sometimes chocolate-covered cherries or other fruits) and also those chalky Necco-brand heart things that they SAY is candy - but a high sugar content alone does not a candy make. We have oodles of cards, possibly the most base foundation for the "Hallmark holiday" epithet, and from grade school onward they instill both a sense of caring and of sheer obligation.

In Japan, things are similar - but never the same.

Red is still the color of sweetness and anger at having no sweetness to call your own. Cards still exist, certainly. After all, Hallmark exists beyond language barriers. As for the candy - it's all about the chocolate. Just not in the way you'd expect. After all, here in America the commercialism leads us to "the most expensive chocolate is the best". But I have a question for all the lovers out there: When was the last time you MADE chocolates?

That's right - they make chocolates for the people they care about. And by "they" - I mean "women". While here in America, it pretty much falls on the male to take the time to make something special and set up plans for a romantic day/evening - in Japan, Valentine's Day is all about the females giving chocolate to the men in their lives. (Don't worry, all you feminists out there - there's a REASON other than subservience...) On top of this, the Japanese don't want to mix the notions of obligation and sincerity – God forbid that someone would ever get the wrong idea - so their chocolates come in two different categories:

"Giri-choco": Known as "obligation chocolate". Small, moderately-priced chocolates that are given to classmates, colleagues, co-workers - any man in your life who deserves recognition, but not your affection.

"Honmei-choco": Known as "specialty chocolate". More-elaborate chocolates if found in a store. Traditionally hand-made and cast in special molds; given to that "special someone" in your life, or someone you would want to become a "special someone".

(Another option in the honmei-choco line is a chocolate cake - anything that's chocolatey gets the job done, no matter what shape or form it comes in.)

So on the big Valentine's Day, women give these chocolates to the men in their lives they wish to recognize or appeal to. Men get to brag about how many chocolates they received, or the fantastic quality of the chocolates received, or the elaborate designs or anything else men can find to brag about chocolate-y goodness they've received.

To be a man without chocolate on Valentine's Day in Japan is the equivalent disgrace as being alone here in America. Or the fat kid at the end of the row in school, shaking his V-Day card box upside-down and having nothing come out.

Okay, so now that I've explained the rituals of Valentine's Day in Japan, I'm sure that feminists and most women in general are feeling gypped by it all. "Oh great, we have to do all the work to get something romantic on Valentine's?" Well, cheer up, ladies. Because unlike here in America where V-Day is a one-day event, in Japan there exists a counterpart holiday.

It's known as "White Day" and it takes place a month later on March 14th.

Okay, so what is this White Day and how does it relate to Valentine's Day?

Remember all those chocolates the women were giving to the men? Well, there's more reason to it than just being "nice". Every man who received chocolate has to remember who gave him what, because on White Day - he has to return the favor! The tradition started only a few decades ago, because the men felt so GUILTY about being showered with affection on Valentine's Day by the women, and they decided to make a new holiday to return the favor. Not only are men supposed to return the favor with a gift in return, but it should be of a HIGHER value than the gift that was given to them a month prior. Traditionally this is in the form of cookies or chocolates, but there's a reason why White Day sales are some of the biggest that take place in Japan. If you received handmade chocolates, your return gift has to be equally thoughtful - and probably NOT something you made yourself. Jewelry and women's clothing/accessories are usually the biggest sales on White Day.

So there you have it - a holiday not created from commercial Hallmark, but out of sheer guilt from receiving presents. Only in Japan, huh?

You want to hear something awful? While in Japan, the men felt guilty enough about being showered with gifts and chocolate on Valentine's that they made a new holiday just to return the favor out of obligation and fairness - here in America we did the opposite. Men, feeling they were entitled to something extra for all of the effort and thought that went into their Valentine's Day plans and gifts for their valentines, decided as well to make up a new holiday (though not a fully-recognized one yet, if ever). Rather than one of obligation to be fair and give something in return - it's one of obligation on the VALENTINE'S part to give something in return.

That's right - March 14th in America is "Steak and a Blowjob Day".

I'll leave you to ponder that holiday, while I count up all of my chocolates given to me today by the women who appreciate my being in their life.

Yup, still ZERO. (At least in Japan I could be happy about having no obligations for White Day...)

No comments: