Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine's Day in Japan

The Japanese celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, but not in the way people from the West might expect. Similar to Christmas and "Christmas Cake" (In Japan, Christmas is just an excuse to eat cake and KFC, but that's a post for a different time), St. Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a marketing ploy used to sell chocolate. But whereas in most of the West, St. Valentine’s Day is a day for friends and lovers to exchange cards, gifts and/or candy, in Japan, it is a day when, specifically, women give men chocolate.

There are two kinds of chocolate given; honmei-choko (本命チョコ, lit. “true feeling chocolate”), and giri-choko (義理チョコ, lit. “obligation chocolate”). How much honor a Japanese man has is measured by how much chocolate he gets from women on St. Valentine’s Day, so he feels utter shame and embarrassment if he doesn’t get any chocolate. Giri-choko is relatively cheap, obligatory chocolate given out by women to men around them for whom they don’t have any particular feelings of affection, so that they don’t feel left out.

Honmei-choko is chocolate given by a woman to a man for whom she has particular feelings. It’s usually a bit more expensive than giri-choko, and sometimes it’s homemade; this is to indicate to the man that the woman has “gone that extra mile” for him. It is usually accompanied by other gifts such as clothes, jewelry or neckties.

White Day
It would seem unfair that St. Valentine’s Day in Japan is a one-way street; this is where the complementary “White Day” comes in. White Day takes place on the 14th of March, and it is a day where men express their gratitude for the chocolate they got on St. Valentine’s Day. A man is expected to “return the favor” and give chocolate back to the women that helped maintain his chocolate honor. The term sanbai-gaeshi (三倍返し, lit. “thrice the return”) is used to describe the general idea that the chocolate a man gives on White Day should be a bit more expensive than the chocolate he got on St. Valentine’s Day. A marketing ploy capitalizing on the importance Japanese place on feelings of obligation (義理, giri), White Day is a purely Japanese phenomenon.

Black Day
Didn't get any chocolate on either Valentine's Day or White Day? South Korea has a special holiday for you. Meet Black Day, the day when all the singles who went unnoticed get together and bitch about the fact that no one bothered to give them chocolate or gifts. The day takes place on April 14th as a direct response to Valentine's Day and White Day, which also take place on the 14th of February and March respectively. (Valentine's Day and White Day are also celebrated in South Korea.)

Apparently, people get together wearing black, and complain to each other about not having been noticed on Valentine's Day or White Day while eating black-colored food, especially jajangmyeon, which is noodles in a black sauce.

Bowl of jajangmyeon noodles

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