My Funny Valentine

Mark Guthrie celebrates the season of getting

What’s that noise? Can you hear it? It’s faint, but getting nearer. It sounds like hope, like dreams. It sounds like wishes, and romance. It sounds like candle-lit dinners, proposals and crushing disappointment. It sounds like a heady mix of rampant commercialism and love. It can only be one thing. It’s Valentine’s Day and it’s fast approaching.

Yes, the day when the world celebrates St Valentine, the patron saint of men turning their hard-earned cash into kitsch cards, sparkling gems and expensive meals in the hope of getting a blow job. Ah, the romance of it all.

Well, the thing is, like so many of the western traditions that have been adopted in order to wring a bit more cash from the populace, the Japanese have taken a different approach.

First of all, gents, put away your wallets. Your money’s no good here. Like something straight out of The Twilight Zone (younger readers, ask your parents), here in Japan it’s the ladies who do the gift giving.

Yeah, that’s right lads, that huge chunk of your January paycheck that you had put aside, that paycheck that would be better used repaying the debts accrued over Christmas, is yours again.

Spend it as you will. Ladies, stop checking the mailbox, there’s nothing coming for you. Get off your arse and into town, you’ve got shopping to do.

But ladies, don’t despair. Luckily for you, there is no need to financially cripple yourself. No need to scour the shops for that perfect teddy bear holding a heart with just the right phrase stitched on it. No need to beg high-end, fully-booked restaurants to squeeze you in at short notice. And there’s no need to head down to the conbini in the dead of night, hoping above hope that you can find a bunch of bedraggled chrysanthemums and a Now That’s What I Call Love… CD (complete with Backstreet Boys, Celine Fucking Dion and a panpipe song that sounds an awful lot like All You Need Is Love, but that’s just different enough as to not infringe on any copyright) in the bargain bucket. No, just pick up some chocolates and be done with it. Easy huh?

Ah, that sound you can hear now is our tens of male readers shouting “what the fudge?” at the page. (See what we did there? Chocolate? Fudge? Geddit? Oh, bugger off then.) But you heard right.

In Japan, thanks to the powers that be – the confectionary industry – the day of St. Valentine is a time when women give men chocolates, and nothing more. No card, no flowers, no diamonds and importantly, since the ladies are receiving no grand gestures, they have no obligation to, ahem, give that thing that shows their gratitude in the way that men favor most. It’s chocolate and chocolate alone.

So guys, picture the scene. You’re at work / in a bar / perched in the park next to the rubbish bin (delete as applicable) and the gorgeous creature that you have been eyeing over the photocopier /table of empty glasses / jar of methylated spirits comes over and gives you a chocolate. Huzzah! She loves you! Rejoice, for St. Valentine and his inappropriately naked and youthful companion Cupid smile upon you. Possibly. Because this is Japan, and nothing where emotions and the nature of displaying them is concerned is that straight forward. Yes, that chocolate that you have just received, that chocolate that you clasped to your bosom, that chocolate that, when you were sure no one was watching, you licked the wrapper of because her fingers had touched it, may be nothing more than a giri-choko, quite literally, ‘obligation chocolate’.

Yes ladies, while you may wish to give special honmei-choko, ‘true love chocolate’, to one person (or more, this is the 21st century and polygamous relationships are possible for a lucky few with the stamina to maintain them), you will give giri-choko to many, many others. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers, you see, but it is also a time for ladies to give thanks to their male acquaintances. So whether it be a good friend who has been there for you in difficult times, your boss who has refrained from ogling your boobs as he talks to you, or you just want to fuck with the head of that creepy guy who keeps staring at you over the photocopier / table of empty glasses / jar of methylated spirits, you will give away many, many chocolates.

And that’s it really. Some chocolate is eaten, some spirits are crushed and no one goes home with a bad taste in their mouth. Sounds quite civilized when you compare it to the wrought emotions and vast budgets of the consumer behemoth that is Valentine’s Day in the west, doesn’t it? And while a few ladies will feel somewhat short-changed, you men feel will like you have dodged a bullet in some way, don’t you? Ha! Think again, because it all comes back to you in exactly a month’s time on White Day.

What’s White Day you ask? Oh, just you wait. Just you bloody wait… (insert Twilight Zone theme tune here)

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