Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Culture Shock #3 – Valentine’s Day and White Day

A common day for love all around the world is Valentine’s Day. It is a holiday where a person would give chocolate to the one that they love and confess their feelings. Across the world, this tradition is typically observed the same way, except for one part of the world, Japan. While sharing the same day as the rest of the world, Valentine ’s Day is slightly different in Japan, where men are given chocolate from a women. Then in March 14th, a man is obligated to give chocolate in return in a unique event known as “White Day.” In this short culture shock, I will explore how Valentine ’s Day differs from the West and this unique day known as White Day.

On Februrary 14th, the people in Japan celebrate Valentine’s Day like the rest of the world. It differs from the rest of the world in that a chocolate is typically given to a man. There are three types of chocolate that is given to another person in Japan: giri choco, honmei choco, and tomo choco. Giri choco is chocolate that is given in obligation to another person. It is a present given as a mutual obligation to another, for example, it is given to coworkers or for friendship. Having a mutual obligation to one another is a Japanese mindset that is unique to that country. Honmei choco is chocolate that is given from a woman to someone they love. It is typically the most elegant and the most expensive chocolate that is given. Tomo Choco is typically given from a woman to her friends, and it is a new trend.

This holiday is not one sided, exactly one month from Valentine’s Day is a uniquely Japanese event called White Day. The National Confectionary Industry Association first started the event in 1978. On this day, chocolate is given in response to chocolate that was given in Valentine’s day. This fits in the Japanese concept of Okaeshi, which is giving a gift in return to a previously given gift. Like with Valentine’s day the type of chocolate given in response is given based on the status of the person receiving the chocolate. The rule for the man is to give something of value that is worth a multiple amount more than what was given in Valentine’s Day. This tradition is a result of shrewd business and marketing, not as a cultural creation.

This tradition is heavily seen in any anime and manga that takes place in Japan. While Valentine Day is a western creation, the Japanese adaptation of Valentine’s day is a unique form of the holiday. One party gives chocolate, and the chocolate can be for love, friendship or out of obligation. In return, the party who received the chocolate in Valentine’s day has to give a gift in return during white day. Considering how many retailers want to commercialize a holiday, it is quite surprising that we have not imported White Day from Japan.

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