As we all know, Japan has a fascinating way of reinterpreting Western traditions. And Valentine’s Day is a neat, tidy demonstration: everything from the gift-giving to the little chocolates are turned on its head. Ladies give sweets to men, for one, and the gifting is tied up in appropriately complicated social niceties. A woman is expected to include all the men in her life, from friends to family, and if she works at an office, she must treat her male co-workers, too–even the lame ones.
Naturally, there’s social hierarchy, with quality of chocolate reflecting the relationship. Store-bought candy goes to dads, brothers, nephews and platonic guy friends. The cheapest sweets go to unpopular co-workers (think a bag of Tootsie Rolls from the dollar store), and are literally referred to as “ultra-obligatory chocolate.” For her significant other, though, a gal will lovingly bake treats herself.
But why should obligations end there? A sales promotion by a marshmallow manufacturer in the late 70s more-or-less added another duty to this whole affair. It’s called “White Day.” On March 14th, fellas are expected to return ladies’ generosity with chocolate of greater value. And it must be 2X or 3X better, or it could be interpreted as a statement of superiority; or that (gasp!) the relationship is ending. White chocolates fit best, but gifts can include flowers, jewelry or (oh, my!) lingerie.
As always, anime can be called upon to illustrate these customs…
Let’s be honest, American corporations have “reinterpreted” this holiday just as much. (Or do you figure anybody buying pink cards and heart-shaped Snickers knows much of anything about St. Valentine of Rome’s martyrdom?) So, American otaku wouldn’t step outside any real traditions if they adopted any of this for V-Day this year. If you want a complete experience, however, you ought to think carefully about your chocolates. And the Japanese have reinterpreted those, too.
Let’s focus on the Kit Kat. These rarely differ from the basic “milk chocolate and wafers” recipe here, but Nestlé Japan has over 200 variations which are alternately novel, intriguing, and sometimes kinda gross. There are green tea Kit Kats, sweet potato Kit Kats, soy sauce Kit Kats, wasabi Kit Kats, and so on, seemingly ad infinitum. Each region has their own version of the snack that reflects their food specialties. Peruse a few below.
And Nestlé Japan just recently crossed a threshold with Sake Kit Kats. Rice wine powder, kneaded directly into the wafer batter, giving all that distinctive flavor and aroma. But should you gift it to your beau, or the grump in the next cubicle over?
Well, over 50% of Japan’s annual chocolate sales reportedly happen on Valentine’s Day and White Day, and the companies don’t hit those percentages without giving buyers plenty of options. Thus, there are gourmet Kit Kats. The sake variety, for example, can come in cheap boxes, or pricier packages. Really, it’s more a question of how much the guys and girls in your life mean to you–because your chocolate choices will explicitly communicate that value to them. So, there’s much room to make V-Day extra awkward!
Do the weird V-Day traditions of any other countries seem more fun? What’s your favorite exotic Kit Kat flavor? Open your hearts and fill the talkback with true feelings.
Featured Image Credit: Kumirice/Deviantart