Love is all you need
Valentine’s Day is a strange kind of holiday. It does not exist as a matter of law like a federal holiday, and there is no day off from work or school. Yet it continues year after year, decade after decade, even century after century, because of people’s belief in the importance of love. The expression of this love, which was originally limited to the romantic variety, has expanded to include sending cards and chocolates, and perhaps giving a hug or two, to parents and friends.
Valentine’s Day is now fast approaching, and it’s surprising how controversial such a simple holiday has become.
With the ubiquity of the Internet, rival websites battle each other, the pro-Valentine’s Day group waxing poetic about romance and listing intriguing ways to spend the day with that special someone, and the anti crowd spouting off about commercialization and a veritable conspiracy between the chocolate, flower, and greeting card industries to wrest money from consumers’ pockets.
People who have significant others shout out to the world how happy they are and set forth in detail how they plan to make their unions even more joyous, while singles respond by claiming they are happy by themselves and that they don’t need someone else to complete them.
Cultural differences between people in a number of countries have also arisen. In the U.S., men tend to be the givers of gifts on Valentine’s Day, while in Japan and Korea, it is the women who do the shopping and presenting, with men reciprocating a month later.
In the U.S., some singles started a day to commemorate their solo status, giving it the unfortunate acronym S.A.D. But in Korea, singles gather rather forlornly to eat black bean noodles.
The genders are even in conflict, with men feeling the pressure to demonstrate their love, and women, in the words of some editors at cosmopolitan.com, saying, “For us, Valentine’s Day is like the big game – we really want to win.”
This year, let the battles finally end, and whether you celebrate with a lover, parent, friend or by yourself, have a happy Valentine’s Day.
If one Valentine’s Day is good, then two must certainly be better, or at least that is what the National Confectionary Industry Association likely thought when it inaugurated Japan’s first White Day in 1978.
The new holiday, celebrated each year on March 14, was started as an “answer day” when men could give chocolate to the women who gave them sweets a month earlier on Valentine’s Day. Or it could have been just a cynical ploy to sell more chocolate.
White chocolate was marketed as the gift to give in return, providing the day with its name. But now men give dark chocolate in addition to white, or marshmallows (the original gift when the idea for a second Valentine’s Day was started in 1977), as well as jewelry or even white lingerie.
The return gift depends upon whether the type of chocolate received from a woman on Valentine’s Day was “honmei choco” expressing a romantic interest, or “giri choco,” translated as “obligation chocolate,” given to bosses or colleagues. It also depends on what kind of message you want to send. A man can indicate he is interested in a woman if he sends her something special even if she gave him giri choco, or vice versa.
Whether it is because men’s salaries are higher or for another reason, the return gifts given by men are usually “sanbaigaeshi,” or three times the value of the Valentine’s gift received.
The media often reports on the latest gift-giving trends, with two-thirds of the women cited in one 2010 poll saying they would prefer to receive handmade, rather than store-bought, sweets, seeing them as a gift from the heart, and 63 percent of men saying they would try to personally make the chocolates they give.
As a result of such polls, there is even a competition between men on who can make the best White Day chocolate to give to their sweethearts.
Though White Day is not nearly as popular in Japan as Valentine’s Day, perhaps the reason why it took hold in Japan, rather than the U.S., is that it satisfies the Japanese concept of “okaeshi,” or the requirement that one who receives a gift must give one back, such as when guests at a wedding receive a small present in return for their larger cash gift to the wedding couple.
White Day is also celebrated in Korea, with men giving candy, rather than chocolate, to women who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day. The holiday is also said to be popular in China.
While April 14 is Black Day in South Korea, when people without significant others gather to commiserate over their lack of a partner, in Japan, the day is one for couples – or it will be if the Japan Anniversary Association and Ehime Prefecture have anything to do with it.
In 1994, they joined forces to designate April 14 as “Orange Day,” when couples exchange oranges to reaffirm their love.
Oranges in the West are sometimes said to have some connection to marriage, as trees that bear a lot of fruit are said to symbolize prosperity and fertility. Orange trees can bear fruit and flower at the same time, another indication of good luck and happiness. Orange tree flowers are also said to symbolize the spirit of new brides.
The Japan Anniversary Association combined this with the desire of Ehime citrus growers to sell more fruit to promote Orange Day as a time to give gifts. It has yet to catch on.
S.A.D. celebrates being single
If you get tired of ads promoting chocolate or couples playing kissy-poo all around you on Valentine’s Day, you can strike back by celebrating Singles Awareness (or Appreciation) Day on Feb. 15.
The day serves as an alternative for people not in a romantic relationship. They gather to celebrate, or commiserate, take your pick, their solo status, and the fact that they can still enjoy life while being single.
The holiday seems to have been started by people who were tired of being left out on Valentine’s Day. Originally scheduled the same day as Valentine’s Day, it was changed to the day after to make it more celebratory and less of a day of resentment. Support for the holiday seems to be growing every year.
Some popular activities on the day include events with other singles, meeting single friends to exchange gifts, and buying gifts for oneself.
Events with other singles, both strangers and friends, are not only fun in themselves, but can also lead to opportunities to meet potential significant others. This spirit makes the holiday similar to Black Day in Korea, when singles get together on April 14.
It is said that many people wear green on this day because it is seen as the opposite of the red flaunted on Valentine’s Day. Black is an alternative, indicating an absence of celebration on Feb. 14.
Gift ideas good for more than your relationship
By Jessica Ocheltree
(Photo by Louise Rouse, Metropolis Magazine)
Every year around this time, you hear a lot of carping about how Valentine’s Day is a commercialized spectacle devoid of real romance, especially in a country where the holiday was imported by the chocolate manufacturers. Still, some of us like the idea of a day to recognize the importance of love in our lives, romantic or otherwise.
For ethical consumers, however, many Valentine trappings can be problematic. With the huge outpouring of yen associated with the holiday, it’s even more important to vote with your wallet. Not to worry! Even if you want to go the traditional route, we’ve got you covered with some options that show you care enough about your partner to care about their world.
The classic gift is chocolate, and Tokyo certainly doesn’t lack for options there. From high-end chocolatiers to your corner conbini, you’ll be seeing pink and red gift boxes stacked to the ceiling. Before you grab the nearest tasty treat though, take a moment to find out where the cocoa came from. Much of the cacao beans used in chocolate manufacturing are produced in countries where labor and environmental regulations are shaky at best. The Ivory Coast, which supplies 30-40 percent of the world’s cocoa annually, has been called out for using child labor and participating in trafficking.
The easiest way to make sure your chocolate doesn’t have a bitter history is to buy certified fair-trade. Some of our favorites available around town are Zotter, an Austrian company that makes fair-trade organic chocolates and realizes in-house the whole production process, bean to bar; and People Tree, which might be more famous for its fair-trade garments, but also has delicious chocolates whose sweetly illustrated wrappers we love.
If your sweetie doesn’t have a sweet tooth, you may be thinking about some roses. Not so fast, Romeo. Likely those blooms came from countries on the other side of the planet, like Kenya or Ecuador. The transportation alone has a substantial environmental impact, but as the industry is very capital intensive, the flowers are increasingly grown by large, foreign-owned producers, providing only jobs at the lowest wage levels, and using unsustainable farming practices. If you must have roses, consider domestic varieties rather than the traditional long-stems, and a potted bush rather than cut ones, which will not only last longer, but will also brighten your beloved’s abode. If you are a little more flexible, there are some flower shops in Tokyo specializing in locally-sourced, organic flowers. We like Wanabiya in Nishi-sugamo, which even makes edible arrangements of flowers and herbs.
If things are getting very serious, you may be thinking about jewelry, but we run into problems here too. Despite the popularity of the movie Blood Diamond a few years back, there is still very little awareness in Japan about conflict gemstones. Precious metals are just as troublesome, since mining practices often have a huge negative environmental impact, labor issues abound, and soaring demand and prices allow them to fuel ongoing conflicts.
If you go to a brick-and-mortar shop in Tokyo, you are likely to get confused looks if you ask about sourcing. Even the stores which are prepared to talk about it can generally provide only a Kimberley Certification, which is problematic due to its very limited definition of what constitutes a conflict stone. Still, even asking the questions can have a positive impact by demonstrating a customer interest, and there are also online shops that specialize in low-impact, conflict-free jewelry, like Brilliant Earth, which ships to Japan and has a huge selection.
So there it is—some more ethical twists on your traditional Valentine’s Day gifts. Now you have no excuse not to get out there and feel the love!