14 February 2009

Valentine's Day and the Japanese reverse chocolates



"Do you know the history of the Valentine's day?" asked one of my friends from Myanmar, "and how its celebration is different in Japan than the western countries?". As she never doubts my understanding over wide range of contemporary issues, she expected a clear-cut answer to her question which however was a bit tough for me this time. I must admit that my knowledge of the Valentine's day is restricted to some of its superficial traditions that exist in most of the Asian countries and that I have never investigated any history associated with it. I was about to disappoint her by answering in negative when she queried again, "by the way, are you going to post something on the Valentine's day or not?". Though, I had no idea neither any intention of writing something on the Valentine's day at that time, I replied gently, "yes, for sure! but what do you want me to write?". I had a sigh of relief after taking heed to her response, "anything! Whatever you feel appropriate enough to mention. & yes, don't forget to give a brief note of its history". I promised her that I would write 'something interesting' about the Valentine's day which, according to her, was 'a special day'!

The Valentine's day attracts me due to the groundbreaking ways of expressing & exhibiting 'love' particularly by the young lovers. The Valentine's day has truly become a global 'phenomena' over the years.

The Valentine's day is the traditional day on which lovers express their love for each other. In this sense, this day is marked by mutual exchange of gifts (most often, chocolates & greeting cards) and amorous glances between the lovers. However, personally, I don't really believe in any special day to express my romantic feelings to my loved one (my better-half). Nonetheless, this day attracts me due to the groundbreaking ways of expressing & exhibiting 'love' particularly by the young lovers. The Valentine's day has truly become a global 'phenomena' over the years.

The history

Come February and every year a lot of gifts and greeting cards are exchanged between loved ones in the name of St. Valentine. But very few people know about this mysterious saint. The truth behind the Valentine legends is gloomy as there exists several fables to describe the 'story of the Valentine'. But, regardless of the contradictory beliefs, there is no surprise that Valentine continues to be one of the most popular & romantic figures today.

The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas (source: Wikipedia). Come February and every year a lot of gifts and greeting cards are exchanged between loved ones in the name of St. Valentine. But very few people know about this mysterious saint. Traditionally, February has long been a month for the lovers. But, when exactly did this custom start? To find the answer to it, I did a bit of googling and eventually found that, today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred and could be associated with this ancient rite (source: history.com).


According to one legend, Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century. The Emperor Claudius II had an opinion that the single men were best suited, in compared to those with wives & families, for military personnel. Hence, he disallowed marriage for young men in a bid to recruit them in his armed-force. The priest Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers secretly. However, Valentine's activities were discovered by the Emperor who ordered that he be put to death. Another legend says that Valentine, while in prison, fell in love with the jailer's young daughter who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is supposed that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that still inspires the lovers while they prepare to pen their feelings on the valentine. Many believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to mark the anniversary of Valentine's death which probably occurred around 270 A.D. The truth behind the Valentine legends is gloomy as there exists few other fables as well to describe the 'story of the Valentine'. Few believe that it came from the festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility. But, regardless of the contradictory beliefs, there is no surprise that Valentine continues to be one of the most popular & romantic figures today. The interested readers can click here to watch the videos of the history associated with the Valentine's day.

The Japanese way of celebrating the Valentine's day

Japan celebrates the Valentine’s Day on two different occasions: first, on February 14th when the women present gifts to their boyfriends, husbands, or any male close to them and second, on March 14th, exactly one month later, when the men give back the same to the women. March 14 is actually known as the 'White day'.

(The Valentine's day special chocolates: photo courtesy savingadvice.com)

According to the Japan Today, an online news portal, Prime Minister Taro Aso who is currently struggling to maintain the public support, got a much needed break on Friday the 13th when he received a box of chocolates from female reporters on the eve of the Valentine’s Day. In fact, Valentine's Day in Japan has always been about girls giving 'chocolates' to guys! Unlike the western tradition of celebrating the Valentine's day by exchanging chocolate, roses, cards and many other gifts to show love and affection towards spouses or significant others, Japan celebrates the Valentine’s Day on two different occasions: first, on February 14th when the women present gifts to their boyfriends, husbands, or any male close to them and second, on March 14th, exactly one month later, is when the men give back the same to the women. March 14 is actually known as the 'White day' which has been named after the color of chocolates (i.e. white) given by men to their girlfriends, wives or any female close to them. Hence, two types of chocolate gifts are given out while celebrating the Valentines day (along with the White day): one is giri-choco or obligation chocolates which is for males and, the other is hon-mei which is for wives and girlfriends i.e. females. Basically, the notion behind all these traditions of 'chocolate gifts' have been devised tactically by the Japanese confectionery industries to promote the sales.

A twist in the tale: the reverse chocolates

A survey shows that 90.8% of the Japanese women would like to receive gift from their boyfriends or husbands on the Valentine's day itself which gave rise to the idea of 'reverse chocolates'. A Leading Japanese confectioner Morinaga has devised a campaign that features reversed English text & design along with a blue ribbon twist that reads "This year, give in reverse".

(Reverse chocolates: photo courtesy Japansugoi.com)

Traditionally, women used to present chocolates to men on the Valentine's day while men were supposed to return the favor on White Day (March 14th). But now, there is a slight twist in the tale! A new idea has come which ensures that the girlfriends (or any female) don't have to wait to receive their gift for extra one month. The male counterparts can give special “Reverse Chocolates” that come in packaging with labels printed backwards. As I said earlier, the whole idea is put forward and publicized by the Japanese confectionery industries. A Leading Japanese confectioner Morinaga has devised a campaign that features reversed English text & design along with a blue ribbon twist that reads "This year, give in reverse". The chocolate manufacturer came up with this idea after it conducted a survey that shows that 90.8% of the women would like to receive gift from their boyfriends or husbands on the Valentine's day itself.

Well, I firmly believe that the smart companies will come up with some innovative idea for the White day celebrations as well. After all, market plays a huge role in shaping our cultural activities and media has a potential to redefine our traditions! I have tried to post 'something interesting' on the Valentine's day and now, it's up to you all to judge if I am successful in this endeavor.


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12 Comments:

बेदनाथ पुलामी ( उमेश ) on February 14, 2009 at 4:41 PM said...

Happy valentine day to ….nice article …really its great.

सिकारु on February 14, 2009 at 7:02 PM said...

dependra je soo intersting article . thnx for the post.. n i would like to say happy valentine day .

Dilip Acharya on February 14, 2009 at 8:53 PM said...

I found this post very informative. In fact, before reading your post, I only knew about the first legend about this festival.

Yes, the Japanese way of celebrating this seems more romantic, as the festive mood and romance will last for a month and love and affection will keep on growing for the whole month.

Though personally, I also feel that there must not be only one day for love in a whole year of 365 days, but I do hope that this one special day may remind and encourage people to spread love throughout the whole year!

Sumiran on February 15, 2009 at 8:23 AM said...

Nice post! informative
For me valentine day is just another day for 'Lovers'. they donot have to wait 'Valantine day' to celebrate it.

Alok said...

Very interesting & informative article! The custom of giving away chocolates is given by smart Japanese chocolate companies spread to boost their sales, and it has been very successful. I have read somewhere that these chocolate companies sell more than half of their annual sales during the week before Valentine's Day! personally, I don't see anything bad in promoting one like Valentines day as it could be helpful in boosting up the economic activities.

I agree with you that 'market plays a huge role in shaping our cultural activities and media has a potential to redefine our traditions'. well said indeed! and yes, you have once again posted something really interesting. keep up mate!

Boga said...

Very nice article, indeed! You tried your best to share with us this interesting history of Valentine Day. Where I come from (Botswana), Valentine Day is a well-respected day by the youth, middle-aged, and, to lesser extent, elderly couples (only in the cities/towns). If, by any chance, one fails to give his loved one a present during this day; hell might break loose! In fact, although, it is supposed to be the two lovers giving each other some presents; men always feel burdened, urgency, and need to do that. They have to impress their girl friends, fiancés, wives, lovers etc. I remember when I was at the University back home, we (those whose economic/financial background was miserably) used to fake serious illness during Valentine Day to avoid embarrassment. One has to understand that the influence of Westernization in Botswana, South Africa, and other African countries is so entrenched such that LOVE has become “commercialized” – meaning that Valentine Day is not only a Special Day to show your other half the amount of love you have/cherish, but it is the “damn day” to show how much you can spend to prove that/even consolidate your LOVE. This might sound quite alarming, but to be honest, since I came to Asia, I have realized that relationship here and where I come from mean two different things. In my society, among the economically poor, this is the saddest Day because, as I said, LOVE has become a “take it or leave it” scenario. To me, Valentine Day is just an ordinary day, and I feel no excitement at all. But why the Japanese (used to) celebrate it on two occasions seems very absurd. In my society, it is a day where the rich, those from the well-to-do families intimidate the less privileged couples. It is this reason that it is considered social unacceptable in the rural areas. Celebrating Valentine Day is not a bad idea, I suppose, but commercializing it, to the extent that the less privileged end up “shop-lifting” to impress their lovers, as sometimes reported in the media, where I come from, is something I dislike. By BOGA

Sujan said...

Deependra dai thanks for ure information about the history of Valentine's day.

Sumiran on February 17, 2009 at 5:00 PM said...

Ps. audio quality is also good. I appreciate your innovative approach

DEEPENDRA on February 21, 2009 at 7:35 PM said...

I am thankful to all of you for finding the post informative and interesting. I look forward to hear from you in the coming days as well. By the way, I hope that you all have enjoyed the audio podcast of the post!

San said...

Thank you so much about this post. I was really want to know about the history of Valentine's day, that why I ask you.I am sorry to write late comment.

DEEPENDRA on March 2, 2009 at 7:09 AM said...

Thanks San san for your words! I am glad to note that you liked the post & hope to hear from you again.

Anonymous said...

the video on Japanese valentines day says it all - obligation chocolate (who made that term up???)
http://www.japansugoi.com/wordpress/japansugoi-valentines-day/

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