Valentine's Day in Japan: Sweets for My Sweet?
Written by Ruby Regina Benigno
You’re either beaming with glee over a romantic date or dreading the pink and red hearts and the cherubic images of Cupid when Valentine’s Day comes around. I happen to be the latter. Although a hopeless romantic at heart, I scoff at the ridiculously sized teddy bears that bears (Sorry for the pun.) the message “Be Mine.” When I learned that I was obligated to give chocolate to my male coworkers in Japan, I dreaded the day even more.
On February 14th, women give three types of chocolate or “choko/チョコ”: “honmei choko/本命チョコ,” “giri choko/義理チョコ,” and “tomo choko/友チョコ.” “Honmei” is an expression of love. “Tomo” is part of the Japanese word “tomodachi” which means friend. “Giri” roughly translates to obligation. “Giri choko” has sparked debate because it is a tradition that obligates Japanese women to give their male coworkers chocolate. Of course, men reciprocate on “White Day” (March 14th). Still, the notion is inherently sexist and patriarchal. Godiva Japan has even made a campaign against it.
Inspired by Godiva, I decided to reclaim the holiday for women. Instead of buying chocolates for my male coworkers, I bought them for my female coworkers who had been so kind to me. A male coworker confronted me about this, and I said that I was making a new tradition to the delight of my female coworkers and to his chagrin. I continued making new Valentine traditions by going on a “friend date.”
After work, my friends and I went to Kobe, so we could try strawberry-themed sweets at our favorite patisserie. We tried a strawberry mont blanc, a strawberry parfait, a strawberry cheesecake that was shaped into a heart, and pretty much any strawberry dessert on the menu. (Japan is a tad bit obsessed with strawberries in February because they look like hearts.)
As we devoured every morsel, we had an honest discussion about love and marriage. Shimamura-sensei and Shimoda-sensei, my friends, complained how Japanese society wants women to abandon their careers when they marry, so they can focus on raising kids. I shared my lack of experience in dating. We bonded over the fact that we all wanted to fall in love, but it just hasn’t happened…yet.
Society has made Valentine’s Day a time for lovers and has obligated it as a day for men when, in essence, it is a day to show appreciation for someone we adore or admire. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, I hope you celebrate the sweetness of the most romantic day of the year. There are different types of love, and they all should be celebrated.
About the author: Hello everyone! My name is Ruby, and I am a native Chicagoan who has just returned from a year in Japan. I fell in love with the Japanese food culture when I began exploring the Kansai region during my time as an assistant language teacher for the JET Program. I’m proud to be a blogger for Kokoro Care Packages where I can share some tidbits about Japanese culture, food, and travel. I hope your care packages and reading the blog posts will inspire you to visit Japan one day.