by Megan Taylor Stephens
My First Taste of Japanese Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day in Japan is not the same as Valentine’s Day in the Western hemisphere. I learned this the hard way. It was 1987 and I was an international exchange student at a Japanese public high school for my junior year.
I was dressed in my sailor style school uniform with a pleated navy skirt, white shirt, and matching navy colored jacket. I was tall and awkward and temporarily frozen. My friend nudged me toward a boy who we’ll call Takuya. I was holding a small box of fancy chocolates behind my back.
I dreaded giving Takuya the gift, but my friends had told me that I needed to make the first move. The custom was for the girl to give the boy a Valentine’s gift, and if he liked her back, he would give her something one month later on White Day. I seriously regretted telling my friends that I had a crush on him.
My friends had to explain to me several times what this Valentine’s Day and White Day tradition was all about. I was skeptical. I had never heard of such a thing and wondered if they were pranking me. But I reasoned that it was only fair to occasionally make the girl be forced to feel the same anxiety that boys typically feel about asking someone out on a date or making the first move. I definitely felt the anxiety, or rather, sheer terror.
I held out my hands and shoved the box toward him, saying the phrase I had practiced: Tsumaranai mono desu kedo, dozo (“It’s nothing much, but here you go”). Takuya’s face flushed and everyone around us tittered. I could tell he was surprised but I couldn’t interpret any other emotions. I darted off as soon as I could.
Chocolate Choices and Choice Words
When it comes to chocolates, not all are on equal footing in Japan. There are connotations with the type of chocolates you dole out. Here are four kinds of “choco” you may encounter:
· Giri choco are run-of-the-mill, obligatory chocolates that one gives to platonic friends and coworkers.
· Honmei choco are sincere, high quality chocolates that are given to one’s true love.
· Tomo choco are friend chocolates. Women buy these for each other as a sign of comraderie.
· Jibun choco are ones you buy for yourself as a little token of self-care.
On White Day, presents such as white chocolate, cookies, jewelry, or flowers are also common.
Should you intend to give someone honmei choco, consider using one of these handy dandy phrases. You’ve already embarrassed yourself beyond belief. You might as well top it off with an ill-pronounced or poorly scrawled message!
Anata ga suki desu あなたが好きです = I like you.
Anata ga daisuki desu あなたが大好き です = I like you a lot.
Ai shiteru 愛してる = I love you.
Tsukiatte kudasai 付き合ってください = Please go out with me.
The White Day Finale
It was an agonizing 30-day countdown to White Day, March 14, 1987. This was the day when I would find out if my crush would return my affection and give me a gift or if my overture would be ignored and my love would be spurned. It was going to be the talk of the school either way.
Takuya approached me, egged on by his friends, and had an agonized look on his face. He thrust out his hands, said Okaeshi ni, and scurried away. Oh no. He was basically saying not that he liked me, but that he was returning a debt. That didn’t sound promising.
Well, it wasn’t promising. The chocolates were unremarkable — decidedly giri choco and not honmei choco. He was teased by his guy friends and I had to lick my wounds the rest of the year. Thank goodness the new school year started in April so they could become seniors and I could have a fresh start by joining a new junior class. No more crushes for me. I was going to lie low. Only tomo choco or jibun choco from here on out!
Good luck to you. May the cupid gods forever be in your favor.