3.14.2009: White Day. Just when you thought you were safe from the roses and candy, the Japanese come up with another shoe to drop on you.
In Japan, Valentines Day is, as in many western nations, a holiday marked by the marketing, buying, selling, and presentation of gifts. (Love is in there somewhere, too.) The important part, though, is the gifts. Especially the chocolate. (Yay chocolate.)
UNlike many western nations, however, Japanese Valentines' Day is a one-way deal. No guys shelling out cash for dozens of roses, no "Pajama Grams," no kids exchanging little slips of glossy cardstock with popular cartoon stars and terrible puns printed on them, no reservations at restaurants, no tickets to the opera. Not in Japan.
Rather, on February 14th, the custom is simple: ladies give chocolate to gentlemen.
Girls --> chocolate --> boys.
And its not just the fellows with lady admirers, no sir. In the Japanese spirit of politeness, no gentleman is to be excluded. Girls are socially expected to give chocolate to every significant man in their personal, academic, and professional lives. Seriously. In fact, the term for such gifts of chocolate is 義理チョコ (giri-choco): literally "social obligation courtesy chocolate." In fact, the obligatory sentiment extends so far as to push over gender boundaries. Even if one's teacher or uppermost superior at work is female, it is commonly considered wise to give her Valentine's chocolates as well, just to show the proper respect.
This means chocolate for bosses, co-workers, principals, teachers, upperclassmen, club leaders, the janitor, your violin teacher, that nice old guy at the market with whom you chat sometimes, the college student in the apartment across from yours who watched your kids once for fifteen minutes when you had to run to the post office, etc.
But then, one month later... White Day arrives.
On March 14th of every year, having been given exactly one month to compose a master plan and seek the necessary ordnance, the gentlemen of Japan must repay all of their chocolatey debts. As before, propriety demands gifts for each and every lady in a fellow's life. Not only that, but should some girl whom you barely know give you a Valentine's chocolate... well, it would be grieviously un-Japanese of you not to return the sentiment.
And amidst all of the busy chocolate buying and selling and baking and decorating, the planning and the unplanned burning cake that set off the fire alarm, the agonizing question of whether or not you should give chocolate to your intimidating boss, your friend's ex-husband, that college student across the hall, that old man down the street who looks creepy but always wishes you good morning...
...hidden in the midst of all of that, there is the perfect alibi to give your very best homemade chocolates to the boy you love, and one month to prepare for his answer.