For a country full of people who–as a general rule–refuse to kiss their spouses in public, Japan sure has a lot of romantic holidays.
First there’s Christmas. Mind you, young families do get a present or two for their kids, but in Japan that is a major day for couples. Then there’s Valentine’s Day, which I’m assuming we all have heard about, but there’s a twist. Over here, women are expected to make or buy chocolates and give said goodies to the men in their lives. It must be chocolate, and you get major brownie points if you attempt to make the chocolate. Finally, there’s White Day, a full month later on March 14, where the men reciprocate to the women that are important to them–but it doesn’t have to be with chocolate. It can be with food or gifts.
Recently, I’ve noticed a fascinating trend, particularly involving Valentine’s Day over here. I mentioned above that women are expected to spend time and money on providing chocolates to “their” men–husbands, boyfriends, family members, up to and including coworkers. Yes, even the male coworker you don’t like. There are different ranks of chocolates you can give to each group (from the ugh do I have to level to hey you mean a lot to me level), but we won’t get into that here. What we will get into is how the tradition of Valentine’s Day is slowly shifting.
I was speaking to some adult students the other day, and asking them what they were doing in preparation for Valentine’s Day. It was only fair since they’d asked me first (I have super romantic plans to go to the dentist and get clean teeth, in case you wanted to know). A number of the women lit up, and began telling me all about the chocolates they bought.
“I went to the department store down the street and spent 10,000 yen on chocolates,” one middle-aged woman proudly informed me.
Everyone oohed in appreciation.
“Wow! Who are you going to give those to?” I asked.
She gave me a secretive smile. “Me.”
More oohing ensued.
“I bought chocolate for myself too,” a younger woman said wistfully, “but I can’t spend that much money on chocolates. I only spent 2,000 yen.”
“Wait,” one of the men interjected, “aren’t you buying chocolate for your husbands?”
“Nah, he likes to buy chocolates for himself,” the middle-aged woman said. “So I give him a bigger allowance* than usual. This way we both get exactly the kinds of chocolate we like.”
The younger woman nodded fervently.
Later on, I was speaking one-on-one with another student–a businesswoman, still in her work clothes–and she suddenly giggled and held out a box of chocolates to me. “Take one!” she urged.
I popped one into my mouth and was immediately hit with the taste of liqueur. “Wow, this is good,” I said, while wondering if it was okay for me to have such a chocolate while working. “Thank you, what’s this for?”
“It’s Valentine’s Day chocolates. I waited in line from 9am to get these,” she told me, tucking them away. “My husband has no idea. Don’t tell him!”
I have never met her husband, nor do I think I ever will, but I promised anyway.
Some Japanese friends of mine tell me that since they were in junior high school, a lot of the girls have started to make chocolates for their friends, rather than just for boys. This seems like a very clever way to pass chocolate off to anyone you’re romantically interested in without it seeming like an outright confession. But more than that, it’s taking the spirit of appreciating people in your life and expanding upon it, giving not only to husbands or coworkers but also to your friends, your mother, your sisters, your teachers.
(Yes, being a teacher this time of year is lovely because I’m getting chocolates too, regardless of the gender of the student.)
So what message am I taking from this for myself?
Buy yourself something nice, whether it’s chocolates or something else… and make sure the people in your life know they’re appreciated, whether you love them romantically or platonically.
‘Scuse me while I pop off to the nearest Daimaru.
*In Japan, a lot of couples traditionally have the woman handle the finances of the house. This can include her handling bills and handing out an “allowance” to the husband to spend on things like drinking parties with the coworkers.