Posted in cultural differences

So We Gave the Men Chocolates

The U.S.A. created a few traditions in the name of capitalistic integrity. Santa Claus for Christmas, Halloween costumes for literally all of October, and giving chocolate on Valentines Day. Japan saw this innovative idea, and stepping it up a notch. “There are two days!” Proclaimed the chocolate companies of yesteryear, “Valentines Day and White Day!” Boys get treats from girls on Valentine’s Day, and the boys reciprocate three fold on White Day, March 14th.

Fast forward to the present day when my Shinro Guidance group’s leader pulls us ladies aside and whispers all secretive-like in the copier room, “We need to get the men some chocolates, but we can’t let them know about it.”

The leader (let’s call her Nashi) as well as the other Japanese lady (let’s call her Mikan) both nod their heads in agreement as this proclamation. I pause, considering how to phrase my argument that we, ya know, don’t? It’s a complete waste of effort, in my opinion, because well…

I’m well aware White Day exists, but you know what? In my experience the men never “give back three fold.” They just buy some stuff to give in return, if they even remember in time. It’s always the women who go out of their way to make Valentine’s Day special for the guys, but I rarely ever see it get returned for the women.

As I’m opening my mouth to say what’s on my mind in very Japanese politely phrased manner, Nashi-sensei turned to me and said, “Jessica! I have seen you draw really, really well. I want you to make the cards. I think you will be very good at it, ne?!”


Ok so, listen I’m a simple girl, ok? You praise me in just the right way? I will move heaven and earth to make my work reach your expectations. I was given money and told to make the cards. I went to the Daiso (the Japanese Dollar Store) for the required items. I picked out stickers, fancy ribbon tape, and a chocolate bar memo card pack.

Then, I figured since I was already involved, I ran over to the grocery store. I bought enough Valentine’s Day chocolate for my entire English Department, as in for both men and women. Despite the rules, everyone breaks them on Valentine’s Day. Girls give their friends tomo-choco on both Valentine’s and White Day. I figured I might as well do the same, make everyone happy, not just the guys.

As I stayed up late making those cards, I figured sure, American made Valentine’s Day is a commercialized hellscape of jewelry, flower, and other ads, but it’s still a good day to remind people that you care about them. The group I’d been with this year was great, with Mikan-sensei even helping me study Japanese during meetings. One of the guy teachers in particular was fluent in English, and helped me out with speaking my mind in Japanese. I really enjoyed being with them, might as well be a part of the ritual without bitching, right?

It is basically just that, a ritual or ceremonial thing, not quite traditional. Japan doesn’t see Valentine’s Day as Japanese, just kind of a neat adopted thing to do once a year. Ask a Japanese person their top three to five favorite Japanese traditional holidays, and I will guarantee you Valentine’s Day isn’t going to be on that list. Think like how a lot of people in America aren’t Christian, but they celebrate the idea of gift giving during Christmas.

But there are mixed feelings here about it. Annually, there are protests in Japan citing Valentine’s Day as “anti-single” and bad for people without partners. Some women and men also call the whole thing sexist, demanding that women pay for chocolates and for men to pay even more. And even some restaurants have a “no couples allowed” campaign to keep people from feeling bad on Valentine’s Day.

In that kind of spirit, I like to give away chocolate to everyone.

Everyone in the English department anyway, and I gave snacks to the English Club. I can’t give giri-choco to all the kids, they’re nearly numbered at 1,000. Regardless, I wanted people to feel loved, as many people as I could afford to at least. No one should feel left out because they don’t have a partner, that’s just not fair.

The Shinro Guidance men all received their cards and their chocolates. They all did the, “Aw! You shouldn’t have, what a surprise. We never saw this coming!” nonsense, but it was all good. Even if I get nothing for White Day (as expected) I will be happy that we made them happy for Valentine’s.

…Ok that’s a small lie, I will consider it a betrayal. I spent hours on those cards, jerks! You had better get me something nice!!!

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