Valentine’s Day

It's that time of the year again where, massively pressured by the commercial interests of greeting card, chocolate and flower companies, we are forced to declare or re declare our love for our significant others whether we feel like it or not. Not for me, though. Japan has cunningly changed the supposed tradition. Possibly to maximise profits the idea behind Valentine's Day has been split into a girls' and boys' version, the former on the usual day, the latter a month later, March 14th, which has been dubbed White Day.

So I can sit back and receive chocolates and gifts from all the women in my life, which includes my female colleagues who must treat their much-hated colleagues to what is known as "giri-choco", or obligatory chocolate. They usually don't splash out on this though and a lot of shops offer cheap bags of tiny, low-quality chocolates or candy for exactly this purpose. Also, I found that game companies generally don't really honour this excellent tradition allowing its female staff some respite from the expected behaviour of Japanese society. Either way there are no romantic connotations to giri-choco. It's simply one of those "done things", women give their male colleagues some cheap chocolate on Valentine's day, the end. Don't get any ideas!

Though there is a tradition of guys giving giri-choco on White Day it is generally accepted if you don't. You're a guy, after all. You're too busy or scatterbrained to remember such frivolous stuff. But the girlfriend or wife had better get something!

I don't think these two days are used to declare your intentions to a secret love, though I may be wrong. It's not so much cards as chocolate, candy, cakes and biscuits that get the sales boost around this time of year. All shops jump in on the action with supermarkets offering two for one deals on goods and coffee shops repackaging their regular foods in red, cute wrappings so they can up the price somewhat. Romantic dinners for two can also be on the cards, but like Christmas you can expect prices to be a little iffy and tables to be fully booked. Though this year it's on a Wednesday, so it may not be convenient for everybody.

For me the day has special significance, tough, as it's the last day my monthly train ticket is valid, which means I'll have to shell out another chunk of cash (about US$100 or EUR 80) for a new one. If I buy another month-long card (as opposed to a three or six month one) it means I'll have a handy reminder come White Day that I shouldn't try to come home without some cookies and a bunch of flowers. Hell hath no fury, especially when it comes to Japanese women, I think.


  1. I don't think these two days are used to declare your intentions to a secret love, though I may be wrong.

    I was a high school teacher for 3 years in Japan, and yes, actually, there is a lot of declaring of secret love. But, needless to say, not of guys to girls, but girls to guys. Also, lots of making of handmade chocolate (as opposed to the business world of store-bought chocolate), because: 1) Chocolate is easy to make (really, it isn't "made" as much as "assembled". You buy raw chocolate, melt it, and then pour it into molds, decorate it with sprinkles, mix it with other blends of chocolate to make swirls, put little bits of fruit in it, what-have-you, 2) high school kids don't have much money, and 3) home-made chocolate is quite obviously not giri-choco, because it takes more effort than getting a box at 7-11, and thus your chocolate will be understood as what it is meant to be: a declaration of your crush on the person you give the chocolate to.

  2. Ah that would explain all that soft porn with girls in maid outfits covered in chocolate! Another mystery of the orient explained :)

    I could never quite work out why I kept coming across these images.

  3. come home without come cookies
    Please fix this typo, it's not a nice mental image :)

  4. I work in Japan on rare occasion, and because I read your blog, my Japanese co-workers could not believe that I knew what giro-choco is. I think I impressed them. Wow, thanks for the cultural insights. Your blog is so great.