Feb 14, 2017

Celebrating Valentine's Day in Japan

So, I don't even know who - if anyone - reads this blog anymore, but I guess it really doesn't matter much because this is mostly for myself anyway. However, I got the idea of maybe doing an occasional post with a tidbit on Japanese culture and include some relevant vocabulary for whoever may stumble across this blog and is interested in Japan and/or is studying Japanese. As a uni student studying Japanese myself, I always enjoyed reading expat blogs and hearing their personal experiences and learning what bits and pieces of the culture they shared through their stories, so if I can do the same for someone else that would make me quite happy. :)

Now, without further ado, I introduce to you (whoever "you" may be) Valentine's Day in Japan.

バレンタインデー / barentain de- , Valentine's Day
チョコレート / chokore-to, chocolate (often shortened to "choko")
義理チョコ / giri choko, obligatory chocolate (given to bosses, coworkers, etc)
友チョコ / tomo choko, chocolate given to friends
バラ / bara, rose (more common to see it written in kana than in kanji - 薔薇)
彼氏 / kareshi, boyfriend
彼女 / kanojo, girlfriend

Example sentences:
バレンタインデーに彼氏からバラをもらった。barentain de- ni kareshi kara bara wo moratta. I got a rose [roses] from my boyfriend for Valentine's Day.

私は彼氏に手作りチョコをあげた。 watashi wa kareshi ni tezukuri choko wo ageta. I gave my boyfriend homemade chocolates.


Valentine's Day in Japan, or バレンタインデー if you wanna say it like the locals, falls on February 14 just as it does in the US, and, just like in the US, lots of chocolate is involved. Around the end of January and beginning of February, many major department stores have special areas dedicated to booths selling all sorts of fun, cute, or high-end chocolates. However, the twist comes when you find out that in Japan, Valentine's Day isn't necessarily a romantic holiday for couples like it is in The States, and that it isn't the male half of the population buying for the woman in their life.

On Valentine's Day, men are on the receiving end, and not just from their girlfriend. Women may also gift chocolate to men they have a strong acquaintance with, be it their classmates, coworkers, family members, or friends. Chocolate intended for coworkers, superiors, etc, are called 義理チョコ because, as the name implies, they are given out of obligation to those they work closely with. Conversely, chocolate given to friends - male and female alike - are called 友チョコ.

Now, before you get worked up over such a sexist, unfair representation of the holiday - guys who received chocolate on Valentine's Day are expected to return the favor next month on White Day.

While so far I only mentioned buying chocolate, it is also not uncommon for people to make and decorate their own chocolate instead. You can get a variety of chocolate molds, sprinkles, flavorings, frosting "pens", and cute boxes for your homemade chocolates at the 100 yen shop. Years back I bought a couple of chocolate molds, one peanut butter cup-shaped one and a heart-shaped one, so this year I only needed to buy some bars of chocolate, a little bit of flavoring, and a box to put them in. Since I wasn't feeling very creative this year I used my go-to chocolate recipes because I know they won't fail! Only since I didn't have any peanut butter on hand this year I made the chocolate cups with toasted and salted almonds sprinkled on top. Just as good, right?

My Boy came for a visit this past weekend, so we celebrated a bit early. I whipped up some of my no-fail chocolates, wrote a note on a cutesy little valentine that I brought back from the States (you know those boxes of 30+ valentine cards you would get to pass out to your class back in elementary school?), and I even went a little old school and made him a mix CD too.

Knowing the "Japanese Way" that Valentine's Day is done, I wasn't expecting anything in return, but Boy had come prepared with a lovely burgundy-colored バラ, boxed up in a cute little package.

Then we had a romantic dinner with an uninterrupted view of Kyoto Tower... at McDonald's. We're classy like that. ;)

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