When I spotted the hearts on Fukuoka Tower last week I knew they could only mean one thing. Valentine’s Day was nearly upon us, as if I could forget and, although the way Valentine’s Day is changing, due to an ever increasingly globalised society, it is still celebrated rather differently in Japan to other countries.
Since the 1950s Valentine’s Day in Japan has been marketed as day on which women can confess their feelings to men by giving chocolate. The original campaign, having done some research, was thought up by Mary’s Chocolate and the holiday has been celebrated in this way ever since. There are two types of gift, those that you give loved ones, which can also include family members (children for example), and what is referred to as “obligation chocolate.” “Obligation chocolate,” although it is becoming less popular these days, is chocolate that you give to those you work with, usually your male co-workers. Although, if I remember correctly, I did read in a class at University that bosses sometimes give the female office assistants (O.L.’s or Office Ladies, who are kind of like secretaries) gifts on Valentine’s Day too.
There are also two options for women. Women can buy chocolate, and believe me every store that stocks some kind of food sells Valentine’s chocolates, or you can make your own. There are little chocolate wrappers and moulds everywhere. However, speaking to a friend and after doing a little research of my own, I was surprised to learn that recently women have begun to also buy chocolates for themselves and their friends, rather than the men in their lives. It was suggested to me that not only have chocolate companies monopolised on this by creating packaging which is more feminine to attract women to buy chocolates for themselves, but that another driving factor is the production of “limited edition” products, which are extremely popular in Japan. Something that I have noticed, for example, is the large selection of limited edition drinks. Pepsi usually bring out a special flavour every year. Some examples of which are Mont Blanc, Salty Watermelon and Adzuki Bean.
Another big difference, are cards. In the UK, there are hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards to pick from and traditionally people would send anonymous cards to the people they had crushes on. In comparison when I wandered around just after New Year and earlier this month, I noticed that there were plenty of cards depicting sakura or cherry blossoms, which are popular in March, but not many Valentine’s cards.
However, before Cherry Blossom season begins in March there is White Day. White Day falls exactly one month after Valentine’s Day and was introduced in the 1970s. Having done some research, I discovered that it was suggested by a Chocolatier in Fukuoka as a way for men to answer the gifts of chocolates they received on Valentine’s Day. It was suggested that these gifts should be white marshmallows and so the day was named White Day and is now celebrated every year. It is often used as an opportunity to answer the feelings expressed by the gift of Chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Traditionally the sweets given should be white marshmallows or cookies however, having spoken to some of my friends the colour of the sweets are no longer that significant and chocolate can be given too.
On a side note, whilst doing some research to confirm what I had been told by my friends and family I discovered that White Day is also celebrated in a few other Asian countries too.
I hope that wherever you are in the world you had a lovely Valentine’s and I apologise for this article being a few days late. However, as you can see Valentine celebrations aren’t quite over in Japan yet.