Sunday, February 18, 2018

Giri choko, Valentine's Day and White Day in Japan

Valentine's Day came and went. Depending on where you live, you probably gave and got something sweet and chocolatey from your significant other, friend, family member, classmate, or whoever else.
Except if you happen to be a woman in Japan.

You see, Valentine's Day in Japan is an interesting animal. It's not a lovers' holiday (though it's sloooowly evolving into something similar to it, just give it a couple more decades).
Traditionally, it's a day when women give chocolate to men to say "thanks for being a man."

 Sweets for the soccer fan in your life

Nowhere is it more striking than at a typical Japanese company. On February 14th female co-workers come to the office with packs of chocolates to gift to their male colleagues.
Because I work with a horde of men, and because my workplace is a fairly traditional one, I joined the tradition. This year I prepared 30 packets of "giri choko" to give to the men at the office.

Chocolate for the chess fan in your life. I hate the fact that it's all milk, milk, milk and milk. Disgusting.

Wait, what's this "giri choko" thing?

In English - literally obligation chocolate. Chocolate you give, because you should (or you must), not because you have romantic feelings for someone. Chocolate you give out of... well... obligation. Because it would be bad manners not to.

I didn't want to be known as the gaijin with no manners, so like a good little office lady, I did my Valentine's Day duty. But at least I tried to do it my way. Which in this household, it means either "cats" or "Star Wars". Went with the Star Wars way.

 Of course, featuring Kylo Ren! #Reylo forevah!!!

Made 30 of these little baggies.

That way the men knew exactly who gave it to them, and hopefully will remember me next month (more about it in a sec).

I kept the cats for myself.

Sadly, they were not that good.

In all fairness, women also give chocolates to other women on Valentine's Day in Japan. And some of the more progressive men do bring sweets for the office ladies, as well.

That's why you can see more feminine selections on Valentine's Day, too.

Children get in on the fun, too. There are plenty of kids' friendly options to choose from. I mean, just look how cute these Gudetamas are!

Or perhaps, Kitty-chan for that special friend in your class?

Bestie is a Sumiko Gurashi fan? No problem!

Whatever your little ones like, you can find it pretty easily. My experience was that usually kids give sweets to everyone, because it's not good if someone gets left out.

In fact, some schools and companies actually encourage equal opportunity chocolate giving on February 14th, saying that either everyone should get something, or no one at all. Some workplaces go even as far as banning White Day completely.

Wait, what's this White Day thing?

On Valentine's Day the more conscientious males try to keep track of the women who gave them sweets. Good manners dictate that on March 14th the men should reciprocate and gift something back. March 14th is a uniquely Japanese occasion known as White Day. "White Day" because of white chocolate, get it? (Fuck that, I HATE white chocolate!)

These are cute, but I don't want them. Milk chocolate is vile. White chocolate is even worse.

White Day was invented purely as a marketing ploy to sell more chocolate. But, as a typical reciprocal rate hovers at around 20%, despite the best advertising efforts, the popularity of White Day is waning. When seven years ago I made a comment that White Day was losing ground in Japan, I was ridiculed by self-proclaimed Japanese Cultural Experts (JCE for short) for my apparent ignorance and lack of cultural knowledge. The changes were subtle back then and easily missed by casual observers.

This year the changes are more apparent. At local shops White Day displays are about half or 1/3 the size of Valentine's Day displays. The selections are slimmer and not as attractive as even a few years ago. Yes, it's still a long time until March 14th, but when I asked the staff at a few local shopping centers, they said there were no plans to make the selections larger, or the displays more flashy.

Part of the reason is that mothers and wives of those male office workers (what? you actually thought that guys buy stuff for their female co-workers personally? LOL, you're so naive) choose different types of gifts to give to the office ladies. Women know women. Women know that not every woman will eat cookies, or chocolate, because staying thin is always in style. Instead, items like flavored coffee, fancy hand creams, cute hand towels and bath bombs are popular. Lush and Body Shop do brisk business before White Day. As does Starbucks.

I'm very picky about my chocolate, too picky some may say. Because of that I prefer non-sweets White Day gifts. I'm not a fan of Lush, but if I had to choose between milk chocolate and a bath bomb, I'd go with the bomb 100%. Or some yummy dates.

Unfortunately, not all men remember, or care, who gave them "giri choko" on Valentine's Day. In fact, I'd say, most don't. The usual rate of "obligation" White Day gifts is around 20%.

This year, to the surprise of most people, Godiva had spoken against obligation chocolate by placing a full page ad in the February 1st edition of Nikkei Shimbun. In it, Godiva Japan's president, Jerome Chouchan blabbed about:

"Of course, it's good to give chocolates to the person you really love, but there's no need for obligation chocolates. In fact, in this modern era, it's better not to have them. [...] Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when you confess your true feelings. It’s not a day on which you’re supposed to go out of your way to keep good relations at work."

Really? What does he care? Godiva, shit as it is, is too expensive to be given as obligation chocolate. I guess he was mad that other (read: cheaper) companies are doing brisk business, but Godiva is not. Well, sorry sweetie, but take a wad of chocolate and shove it up your ass. You're just salty that you're not getting a piece of the "giri choko" action. Not only is your chocolate utter garbage, the only reason why it's considered "luxurious" is because of its ridiculous price.

The reaction to the ad was mixed. Some were agreeing, some were not. Some just straight up laughed about it. Most thought it was "stealth marketing", precisely for the reasons I mentioned above - Godiva not moving enough chocolate before Valentine's Day. It just shows how out of touch with reality the Japanese branch of this company is.

One Japanese chocolate company, Yuraku Confectionery, which has a line of cheap chocolate with a very porny name - Black Thunder - shot back at Godiva.

Black Thunder is super cheap, and by all accounts, decent chocolate. In other words, perfect "giri choko", and Yuraku Confectionery are proud of it. They know what they are making and they embrace that part of the market. Their message to Godiva was "shut up and shove it" but said in a nice and polite Japanese way.

And yeah, I agree. To each its own.

I did my part.

Now, let's hope I am going to get something decent on March 14th.

PS. Yeah, I did get something on Valentine' Day. This massive pack of strawberry flavored confectionery. I shared the white stuff with my friends, and ate the rest. It was delicious.

Audrey seems to be a Yokohama-based company. I absolutely adore their designs!!!

PS2. Some Japanese women and girls "make" Valentine's Day chocolate. Meaning, they buy a chocolate block, melt it and pour it into form moulds. What is the point of this exercise? I really have no idea. Especially since newspaper articles claim that men prefer store bought sweets!

Cookie forms to pour your "homemade" chocolate in.

And boxes to package your "homemade" gifts. 

Meh, not for me such pointless activities. I mean, any idiot can melt a block of chocolate. Nothing to brag about here. Japanese women are strange...

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