The weather was crappy this morning. What was intended to be snow in the clouds above Nagoya now lay on the ground like a water-flavored Slurpy spilled and melting on the asphalt. The rest of the rain dribbled from the sky into puddles that oozed through the man-made fiber of my oldest shoes and into the threads of my socks, where it remained, keeping my feet chilled like a nice Chardonnay in a wine bucket. But my feet are not Chardonnay, and they are best kept at room temperature.
Coming off the train, the umbrellas popped out like blooming flowers, one after another as I walked with the masses of Toyota employees from the safety of the eaves of the station into the long gauntlet of uncovered sidewalk through the plant. It’s ten minutes of a brisk step from end to end on a sunny day and about a thousand years when kicking through the puddles and choked gutters in the rain.
In Los Angeles is was about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and not a cloud in the sky. I didn’t check the weather, it’s always 70 degrees and clear. At least that’s how I remember it when I trudge along the water-logged Nagoya sidewalks, jumping to avoid the splash of passing cars. Maybe I need a bigger umbrella.
It all started in 1412, 80 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Chaucer wrote the words that would, from then on, seal Valentines day to romantic love. Five hundred years later Hallmark and Russell Stover did the rest. In the postwar era Valentine’s Day has floated ashore in Japan, but like most waterlogged holidays, it has changed slightly in appearance.
First of all, Valentine’s Day in Japan isn’t really about love. They have Christmas Eve for that. Valentine’s Day is about chocolate.
It’s realistic. Until very recently in Japan chocolate was more important than love anyway. Lately love has gained some ground for the young, but realists know it’ll never be as fulfilling as chocolate. For example love is still not always a legitimate reason for marriage, but the lines flow out the door and down the street at Godiva on Valentines.
Enter giri-chocolate, or giri-choco for short. Giri means “obligation.” Giri-choco refers to the long standing practice of women giving all the men in their lives chocolates on Valentines Day. This means dads, sons, bosses, coworkers, even golf instructors. The women don’t particularly want to do it. They have to. It’s a little like those elementary school days when you had to give a valentine to everyone in class–girls and boys. Giving Valentines to boys seemed odd to me, but then again, so did Big Bird, so I was equipped to roll with it.
In elementary school I always tried to pick the nicest valentines for the girls I actually liked. I guess in modern Japan, the price of a box of chocolates may be a similar gauge. It’s a good gauge of your magnetism. You know should bathe more often when you get half a Hershey’s bar wrapped in cello-wrap.
But, if you think about it obligation chocolate really has two meanings. One is the obligation that the women feel to buy chocolates for all those men. the other is the obligation they create in the men when they give them all that chocolate. It’s just an ongoing spiral of “you owe me one.”
To satisfy this obligation a day called White Day was created. In 1965 A marshmallow company in Fukuoka (too bad, of all confectioners A marshmallow company) decided that Marshmallows on March 14th was the perfect way to do so. Before that a specific day of obligation to return the favor wasn’t clearly stated. Fortunately the marshmallow thing has kind of dropped off, although the name White Day stuck. So enjoy your giri-choco men of Japan, but remember, come March 14th marshmallows aren’t going to cut it anymore.