When Japan embraces Western holidays, things can go a bit…sideways. And the biggest example of Getting It Wrong is nearly upon us: Valentine’s Day.
Why? Because only MEN get chocolate!* That’s right. For Japanese women, Valentine’s Day might as well be called Big Fat Obligation Day, because not only are they on the hook for gifting all the goodies, they have to give them to all the men in their lives, not just their Significant Others!**
In the the two weeks leading up to February 14, you’ll see throngs of women rage-buying the latest offerings in every store from Tokyu Hands to 7-11, to keep their bosses, co-workers (and any other man who might be offended if he doesn’t get some) sweet.
Enter a sticky design problem:
Japanese men don’t actually like sweets (or at least they claim not to) and eating sweets in public is something that you’ll pretty much only see women doing. So…how do you make such a girly product acceptable to a he-man?
1 – Disguise it by giving it a manly shape
2 – Make it look like more testosterone-compliant foods
3 – Make it taste like foods that men are allowed to like
4 – Give a chocolate-flavored thing instead of actual chocolate
*Strangely enough, this lopsided interpretation started out as something that actually benefitted women. In (mostly) bygone days, men were supposed to do the asking, and women were supposed to do the waiting-to-be-asked, but many Japanese men were too shy, busy, or unsure of whether their attentions would be welcomed, to make the first move. Valentine’s Day was adopted by women as a sort of “Sadie Hawkins Day” turnabout, and it became acceptable for women to let the Japanese men of their dreams know they were interested on that one day a year.
**Obviously, a case of mission creep of epic proportions (encouraged in no small part by a gleeful Japanese confectionary industry). Once it became obvious (and somewhat embarrassing) that Japan had badly misinterpreted the whole idea of Valentine’s Day, they “fixed” it in a typically Japanese way. They doubled down: Japan’s not wrong, we just need two Valentine’s Days. March 14th was declared to be White Day (excuse me, could that branding be any less inspired?) – a “holiday” on which men who received chocolate from women would return the favor. But this was (rightly) viewed as a thinly-disguised grab for a second helping of profits by candy companies, and White Day has pretty much zero traction.
Click here for more Seasonal Secret posts
Or get more seasonal delights sent to your email every month when you subscribe!
Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had