Friday, February 12, 2010

Variety Friday: Valentine's Day 2010

As is the case every year in Japan, multiple marketing techniques are being employed to try and convince consumers to buy more. Though I'm sure most of my readers are already familiar enough with Japanese culture to know this, Japanese custom on Valentine's Day is different from that in Western countries. Women usually give chocolates to men for Valentine's Day and men are supposed to give candies or cookies to women in a concocted holiday called "White Day" in March.

This custom has largely made for the habit of women giving "obligation chocolate" or "giri choco" to men of status or authority rather than gifts related to romance. Lately though, there has been an effort made to expand the types of people who receive the chocolates with a particular emphasis on "tomo choco" or "friendship chocolate".

The chocolate at the top of this post has backward writing as yet another attempt to expand the recipient market. Men are supposed to flip the Japanese custom and give these to women. Note that not many candy companies do this. In fact, I believe that only Morinaga does it.

I've read several other explanations of why this candy has backward writing; one is that it represents that the custom in Japan is backward and another is that it has to do with the fact that Japanese is read right to left rather than left to right, but I believe that both of these explanations are incorrect. After all, a culture does not present its normal practices as being the opposite of another country's (as it sees the other country as the one which is flipped, not its own) and I've never seen English written in this fashion to emulate how Japanese characters are written.

Nestlé Japan has re-introduced its line of raspberry and passionfruit KitKats for the holidays. They issued them in two different box colors, brown and pink, but there appears to be no reason for this other than an aesthetic option. The bars themselves are identical in composition. I reviewed these mild dark chocolate with raspberry filling (and very little passionfruit) in a previous post last summer when mini bars were offered with some Nescafé instant coffee. I liked them then and I like them now, but I was struck a little more profoundly this time by the sense that the raspberry was artificial. I'm guessing that's because I ate more at once than when I had the mini bars.

In addition to a plethora of chocolate-based candies, there are also special baking displays set up in markets. The idea is for women to decorate pre-made cakes or make their own sweets to share on Valentine's day. Very few young women in Japan are bakers so most of the time a basic sponge cake is on offer and can be served with strawberries and whipped cream along with some cute little heart-shaped chocolate medallions. I've never actually known a woman who baked something for this holiday, so I can't say who they share such treats with.

Happy Valentine's Day, to those who like the holiday. To those who hate it, perhaps you can find some satisfaction in knowing that it's not generally observed as a holiday for couples in Japan. It's just pure crass commercialism without any of the pesky love-based sentiment.

Previous posts and reviews related to Valentine's Day offerings in Japan can be read by going here.


Jen in Japan said...

I've gotten small chocolate cakes (almost like a cupcake but even smaller than that) that my friends baked as tomo choco.

I bought three men friends chocolate this year and fully expect cookies next month and exchanged tomo choco with two other friends. This year though is the first time I've gotten tomo tomatoes! One of my farmer friends gave me a beautiful box packed with tomatoes, which I appreciated as much or possibly more than generic chocolate from the supermarket.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Orchid64 said...

As a foreigner, I've found that I fall outside of the loop when it comes to customs around the holidays.I have been given chocolates on Valentine's Day. I think of it more as one of the gift giving for the sensei things.

I'd also rather have the tomatoes, by the way. ;-) It's not that I don't love chocolate, but they're so much more useful and more expensive!

I wonder if you may see more baked goods than we do because people in the countryside live in houses rather than apartments and are more likely to have ovens.

Thanks for commenting!

Allie, Peeps2 said...

Wow, Orchid, you just laid to rest one of the pressing questions I've had about Japan. I saw those backwards chocolates (and some Dars, also) at our local Circle K, and I was soooo confused. Thanks for clearing that up!

Although I haven't received any chocolates myself, I think it's super cute when my students give chocolates to other kids in the class. I had a 4-year old girl give little gifts to all 3 of the boys in her class - just adorable!

ebidebby said...

In elementary school, we had to give cards and sometimes candies to everyone in our class.

That's very interesting about the mirrored labels. Even knowing a little about Valentine's Day in Japan, I would have no idea what it meant!

Anonymous said...

Happy V-day my dear friend = ) I don't follow the holidays here much but still hum along to Western Holidays... (wrote a love letter to my Mr. last night).

Do you remember when in grade school exchanging V-day cards with class mates? I remember I used to get "Care Bears" or "Strawberry Shortcake" haha

I loved how they came in little boxes with little cards.... and liked it when I got extra.. when I got to Middle school.. it suddenly stopped..

We have some plans this weekend, hope you have a fab one too.

Happy V-day..