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Samurai Theologian in Tokyo – Valentine’s Day Shopping

Valeintines Day

Daniel here. Reporting for JapanesePod101.com.

Romance is in the air here in Tokyo as Valentine’s Day approaches. And in Japan this year we have a three-day weekend as建国記念の日 (けんこくきねんのひ – Foundation Day) is moved to Monday in accord with the Happy Monday* policy. And since Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday, the department stores, bakeries and convenience stores will be busy catering to the romantically-minded. But, it’s not just those romantically-inclined that will be lining up. But, more on that momentarily.

As the Japanese are masters of adaptation, they often take Western traditions and reshape them with a distinctly Japanese twist. And this is certainly true of Valentine’s Day. Whereas in the West the heavier burden of responsibility of gift-giving falls on the men, the exact opposite is true in Japan. In Japan, it is the fairer sex that is expected to give chocolate to the men in their lives. Girlfriends give to their boyfriends, female students give to their male teachers whom they like, wives to their husbands. However, it doesn’t end there.

Another Japanese innovation is 義理チョコ (giri-choko – obligation chocolate). In this modern tradition, Japanese women almost invariably give chocolate to their male bosses and frequently also give to their male colleagues. While this practice may seem unfair, the men usually return in kind on White Day. But, I’ll save that topic for another time. The opposite of giri-choco is 本命チョコ (honmei-choko – true feeling chocolate, lit. favorite) There is also 友チョコ (tomo-choko – friend chocolate), which is chocolate women give to their women friends.

Being an American, I go to buy chocolate for my wife every year. But, when I do, I am usually the only man in a crowded space in front of the Godiva counter in the basement of a department store. It’s almost embarrassing to be the only man in a crowd of women like a man buying lingerie for his lover at Victoria’s Secret.

My wife also buys chocolate for me, which is nice. And having been a teacher at both high schools and colleges, I have received chocolate from some of my students. These are often 手作り (tezukuri – homemade). And, as Mikiさん pointed out in her audio blog, Japanese girls will often leave these on the desks of those boys they are interested in. Alas, this year I don’t teach on Wednesday, so I may be out of luck.

This year, I learned of a new development. Recently, some Japanese women will buy very expensive chocolate for themselves. They will spend twice or three times as much as they do for their boyfriends on the same amount of chocolate, ¥1000 or more. I believe there may be a word for this new “tradition”, but no one I spoke to seemed to recall what it is. I suggest 自己愛チョコ (jikoai-choko – narcissistic chocolate). If I find out the current term, I will post it in the comments.

Next month, I plan to write about White Day, the day where men return the favor.
Until next time, saraba.