Japanese Language Blog

Japanese Culture: Barentaindee (バレンタインデー) Posted by on Feb 9, 2009 in Uncategorized

Barentaindee (バレンタインデー) is the way Japanese people pronounce ‘Valentine’s Day’.  It’s customary for Japanese people to give chocolates as a present on Valentine’s Day.  In fact, it’s not only customary, in some ways it’s obligatory.  Among co-workers, chocolates called giri choco (義理チョコ) are commonly distributed be female OLs (オーエル) to male co-workers.  At this point you’re probably thinking two things: 1) What’s an OL (オーエル)?  Answer: OL (オーエル) stands for ‘office lady’ and is pronounced as oo-e-ru.  2) That’s sexist! How come girls don’t get chocolates?  Answer: girls get chocolates, but not on Valentine’s Day.  (I’ll write about it in a future post).  Only boys get chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

As I’ve said before, Valentine’s Day is observed a bit differently than the States.  In the States, men are the ones who give chocolates to women.  Secondly, men give chocolates to women they are romantically interested in.  In Japan, giving chocolates to a male co-worker is somewhat obligatory.  A female co-worker giving chocolates to a male co-worker doesn’t necessarily imply that she’s interested in him.  The word giri choco contains the word giri (義理) which means duty or obligation and choco (チョコ) the Japanese word for chocolate. 

While it’s true that people give out chocolates to be nice to their co-workers, there’s also a calculated reason behind this gift-giving tradition.  Giving chocolates to your co-worker can strengthen cooperative ties in the future.  In the business world, having someone that can back you up or carry the slack when you most need it is helpful to have.  Sometimes, it’s a burden to receive chocolates from a co-worker.  When you receive something, it’s only polite that you give something in return.  This is exactly what happens a month later when male co-workers are forced, rather, obliged to give chocolates to women.

Not all chocolate-giving is obligatory though.  For example, honmei choko (本命チョコ) is a type of chocolate-giving amongst family members or for a significant other, while tomo choko (友チョコ) is a type of chocolate-giving amongst best friends.  One thing is for sure though, the chocolate industries in Japan make loads of money on Valentine’s Day.  You may be thinking that it’s wrong to combine commericial interests with a day like Valentine’s Day, but I’d rather get something than nothing, even if it’s forced.  In other words, I’m glad to get chocolates from someone, even if they’re just doing out of a societal responsibility.  So for me, I don’t care that Valentine’s Day is a total marketing venture to sell chocolates, because the chocolates are well worth it.  Ok everyone! Time for me to go give out chocolates!

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  1. helio:

    First, I would like to thank you for opportunity.
    Watashi wa burajiru jin, nihongo ni tottemo muzukashii, honto omoshiroi desu.
    I´m sorrym my japanese is not so good, but I´m trying to learn.
    Doozo yoroshiku, gambatte.
    hasta la vista, my friends…