By NOR AIN JAAFAR (Fukuoka, Japan)
In the run-up to Valentine’s Day recently, the hashtag trending on Twitter Japan was #valentinesday, #loveislifestreasure and #valentineiskitkat.
Every year in Japan on 14 February, when chocolate becomes a hot topic, celebrities and people on the streets are interviewed by local television stations. They are posed questions such as, ‘How many chocolates did you get?’, ‘Are you planning to give chocolates to someone?’, ‘Are you expecting any chocolates today?’ and so on.
There is nothing religious about celebrating Valentine’s Day in Japan, as this event is a purely business driven one, started by chocolate manufacturing companies in the 1950s.
Just the other night I saw a new Meiji chocolate commercial on TV for celebrating Valentine’s Day. The tagline was “Matsu Jun”, the name of the man appearing in the spot. “Matsu” is short for Matsumoto, which also means ‘wait’ in Japanese.
Yes, for more than 60 years now, Japanese men have been waiting to receive chocolates from women on every 14 February.
Given the reversal of roles on such an occasion, one might think that Japanese women are a bold lot. Not really, like most women the world over, they still dream of being pursued and wooed by men. So, what gives? Since it is a business driven event, would it be right, perhaps, to say that the women in this country have higher purchasing power in the household? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem quite true.
Expectation can easily become an obligation, and here in Japan there is this common understanding that women will hand out ‘giri’ chocolates to their male work colleagues or friends, apart from the ‘honmei’ chocolates which are usually given to a woman’s better half or the man they like. Over time, this expectation has brought on a reverse impact for the chocolate industry, as chocolates and other Valentine’s Day related goods are facing decline in sales in the past few years.
According to a recent survey, women would buy chocolates for their partners if they have one, and family members, but not as a way to profess their feelings to the man they like. It is expected, as tradition has made them feel that way – hopeless about love, while on the other hand TV, movies and ladies mangas are portraying that women should be wooed and loved, instead. As such, more women are hoping that men would change the tradition by giving ‘gyaku’ chocolates, which refers to chocolates given by men to women they like on February 14th.
However, Japanese women are still buying chocolates to celebrate that perceived day of ‘amore’ on February 14, every year, not for the men but for themselves! Some Japanese women are beginning to think that instead of buying some chocolates to give to their male colleagues, why not spend a little bit more money for some expensive and luxury chocolates to reward themselves? This twist to the occasion is now seeing some Japanese women exchanging chocolates gifts with their female colleagues and best friends, instead as a token of friendship.
While chocolates and Japan on February 14 is still synonymous, a question begs to be answered: How do Japanese women see themselves and their role changing in society, as such a transformation, albeit gradually may also transform Japanese tradition through the years.
Perhaps one day, another TV commercial for Valentine’s Day chocolate tagline may turn out to be centered on ‘Matsu Jane’ as the protagonist, instead? That would be very interesting, from societal and business point of view don’t you think?
NOR AIN JAFAR is a computer programmer by qualification. She holds an MBA in marketing with a dynamic working experience in various Japanese MNCs. She is currently living in Japan with her family. She contributes regularly as translator in halal affiliated industries in Fukuoka.