St. Valentine’s Day: About Love and Not Really

When I first moved to Paris, it was early February. There was a big flower shop right next to my home. That year St. Valentine’s Day happened to fall in the middle of the week, and I do remember a long queue of men by the flower shop I saw that evening when returning back from the office.

As St. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I thought we may want to know how it is in Japan. How they celebrate love, if they do, and do they?

In Japan St. Valentine’s day has almost nothing to do with love. I may have mentioned before that it is the Christmas Eve that is considered to be the day for romantic dates. Instead, St. Valentine’s is all about chocolate!

And if you thought that men are buying chocolate instead of flowers, I have to disappoint you again. Like that long queue of men at the flower shop in Paris, here the ladies are queuing to buy chocolate…for men!

If you happen to be a new-foreign-guy in a Japanese office, do not get too excited when numerous ladies will be bringing you chocolate on St. Valentine’s Day. I know you would like to believe that they all like (or love) you, but the truth is that most likely they don’t.

Why they do that? There is a phrase “Giri-choco”, which means “obligation chocolate”, which in turn refers to an obligation to give chocolate to male friends, colleagues, bosses, neighbours and so on. But that is not all! In Japan St. Valentine’s day has its counterpart, the White day, which falls one month later, on March 14. On that day men have to bring presents (presumably, white chocolate) to ladies who gave them chocolate for St. Valentine’s, and these presents have to be not less than twice the value than the one they received. Sound like a business plan, doesn’t it?

The weirdest part in this story is that it is usually the wife to buy presents to all those ladies who gave chocolate to her husband, and I have read somewhere that that is how office ladies judge whose wife has the best taste.

Japan is a strange country in many ways, don’t you think?

I am glad this year it falls on Sunday. I could hardly imagine myself buying chocolate for my male colleagues for St. Valentine’s. I do prefer receiving flowers and the idea that it should be about love after all. We already forget it too often…

Most of the time, we’re loved for what we can do rather than for who we are. It’s not such a bad thing, being loved for what you can do.’
‘But the other is better.’
If someone loves you for what you can do then it’s flattering, but why do you love them? If someone loves you for who you are then they have to know you, which means you have to know them.

(Ann Patchett, “Bel Canto”)

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