COLUMN BY SONOKO FUJITA / JCCCW INTERN
Valentine’s Day in Japan is celebrated differently than in places like the United States, including the uniquely Japanese creation of "White Day" celebrated on March 14th.
Another unique tradition is the different names to describe Valentine’s chocolates, depending on the giver’s intention. Honnmei choco (本命チョコ) is chocolate a girl gives to her crush, and it’s usually homemade chocolate or expensive chocolate. Giri-choco (義理チョコ, roughly translated into obligatory chocolate), is given to male coworkers as a sort of all-purpose thank-you for support, cooperation, and all-around nicetities in the workplace. Tomo-choco (友チョコ) is given to female friends.
Interestingly, there are changes with these tradition in recent years, which mirrors changing attitudes in broader Japanese society.
One of the changes is the emerging argument to abolish the practice of giri-choco (obligatory chocolate) giving. Of course there are no rules to force women to give giri choco, but women often feel pressure and worry about offending their coworkers by not giving giri choco. Because of the financial and social burden, some people support banning giri choco giving.
Even a chocolate company, GODIVA Japan, ran an ad asking Japanese women to stop buying giri choco on February 1st in 2018. It became a hot topic when GODIVA said:
“There are women who say they hate Valentine’s Day, and there are also women who feel relieved when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend. Why? Because of the difficulty and inconvenience of thinking of who to give giri choco to, and then having to buy it... Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when you tell someone your pure feelings. It’s not a day on which you’re supposed to do something extra for the sake of smooth relations at work.”
In fact, a survey by Nihon Legal Information, Inc. shows that 75% of women support abolishing giri choco giving in office. In addition to the burden for women, it is said that the practice invites risk of miscommunication and increases the risk of sexual harassment. There are also men who are against the giri choco practice because of the burden of returning gifts on "White Day" (in Japan, March 14th is called “White Day” and it is a day for women to get gifts from men in return for Valentine’s chocolate).
The other change is the emerge of gyaku choco (逆チョコ, roughly translated into “reverse chocolate”). It describes chocolate which guys give to their crush. This idea was proposed about 10 years ago, by Japanese chocolate company Morinaga. Although gyaku choco giving is not common yet, awareness is growing.
It is interesting that chocolate giving shows power dynamics between men and women throughout the years. Although the choice whether you give chocolate or not should be personal, it is complicated in a work place where interpersonal relationship might affect your performance and promotion (especially Japanese working culture which takes relationships seriously!) You stop giving chocolate to your boss, and look bad compared to your colleagues. So obligation chocolate should be abolished.
If you feel sad about it, it is time for you to find someone who give you honnmei choco!