Japanese cuisine is associated with rice mostly, and so are traditional Japanese sweets. The famous soft mochi in the form of dango or daifuku or alternative sweet versions of sushi aren’t surprising. And yet, the Japanese candy market became one of the most developed, popular, and inspiring sweet kingdoms in the whole world.
Even though it’s rice that is leading the Japanese food industry, there is another product which consumption has been systematically increasing for years and the trend doesn’t seem to change. It’s chocolate.
Chocolate became the new sweet tradition in Japan quite easily. This is really surprising since it’s a very not-Japanese product — you won’t stumble upon cocoa and milk in their traditional recipes. But here we are in the times when Japanese are open not only for foreign wholesale chocolate brands like Santa Barbara Chocolate or (obviously) Nestle but they also establish their own, native chocolate companies, i.e. Meiji or Morinaga.
What’s the story behind the cocoa mania in this Asian country?
The Valentine’s Day Magic
During the first decade after World War II, all the nations were trying to calm down slowly, settle again. And after over a decade they began to open up for each other, as well. That includes the unbelievably homogenous Asian country — Japan.
Around 1950, the Japanese entrepreneurs were very actively working on the westernization of their country. The most effective campaign which influence is distinctly visible till today was the Morinaga’s Valentine’s Day chocolate promotion.
In 1956 the Morinaga confectionery came up with an unexpectedly successful slogan For Women To Express Their Feelings To Men. There are insinuations that this sentence is a grammatical misunderstanding of an American slogan encouraging men to give chocolates to women on Valentine’s Day. Regardless of the exact intentions of the Japanese vendor — the campaign turned the Asian chocolate market upside down!
The New Choco Tradition
The Valentine’s Day chocolate craziness has grown from a simple, occasional advertisement to a huge part of our generation’s culture. When this special romantic day is coming, girls are bracing themselves with chocolate ammunition.
Women are giving this sweet treat to their boyfriends and husbands as a sign of appreciation. Girls prepare chocolate gifts for their crushes and sweethearts. They don’t limit their romantic creativity to chocolate bars. Men can expect chocolate love in all possible forms!
Homemade treats like brownies, boxes of custom choco bonbons, and many different kinds of chocolate sweets have been winning thousands of male hearts on an enormous scale every February for over 60 years already.
A Small Chocolate Dictionary
The Valentine’s Day trend in Japan contributed to a particular growth of the Japanese vocabulary. There appeared three terms for the Valentine chocolate gifts:
- Honmei Choco: sweet and honest chocolate gift to express your actual feelings.
- Giri Choco: a gift made out of a sense of obligation, e.g. for male colleagues at work.
- Cho-Giri Choco: chocolate treat bought purely under the social pressure, without any positive feelings towards the person the gift is for.
As you can see the Honmei Choco idea combined with the Japanese culture of deep respect for each other and fear of hurting someone’s feelings escalated to obligatory Valentine’s gifts for people a girl doesn’t even have to really know.
The Chocolate Rebellion Of Women
In the era of developing feminism, it was impossible, even for Japan, to avoid the wave of female power. Even though Japan still has a surprisingly long way ahead to total sex equality, women of this island managed to find their voice in the male crowd.
Last year’s Valentine’s Day (2018) was the first one in history with an open protest against the Giri Choco tradition. Even male chocolatiers based in Japan joined the campaign for chocolate freedom. Females got tired of spending thousands of yens for sweets for men they don’t even like or know. Overall these years the tradition became another humiliating aspect in the way of treating women in Japan.
It may sound funny to us, but can you imagine being under the pressure of pleasing someone and being extremely careful not to hurt someone’s feelings every year on such a supposedly special lovely day? The sense of obligation simply destroys the happy romantic spirit!
The Beauty Of Chocolate Fever
Japan may be an example of the danger of going to extremes. Although they also show us that Valentine’s Day doesn’t necessarily have to be a day for lovers only. It’s a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation to each other regardless of sexual attraction or a level of familiarity. Each of us deserves a piece of chocolate on this wonderful day! Let’s just make each other happy with the simple beauty of cocoa endorphins!
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