.Valentine's Day article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 5, No. 3, February 2002
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
Ah, Valentine's Day! A day of love. Couples share flowers, chocolates, and maybe a romantic dinner, while family and friends exchange cards and sweets. This may be the U.S. concept of Valentine's Day, but it's celebrated differently all over the world, especially in Japan. There, the only ones getting chocolate are the guys!
Valentine's Day was first introduced to Japan by the chocolate industry. The Kobe-based confectionary company Morozoff (a favorite of Fushigi Yugi's (long u) heroine, Miaka) was the first to try to popularize the idea of buying chocolates for Valentine's Day. Although Kobe is very cosmopolitan and has been an international hub for more than a century, Morozoff's first attempt in 1936 failed, as did their second attempt in 1952. Tokyo-based Mary's Chocolate Company tried again in 1958, with the slogan "The day women confess their love to a man with chocolate." When the chocolate giant Morinaga picked up the idea in 1960, bombarding the public with advertisements, Valentine's Day gradually took off, becoming a unique Japanese holiday.
Traditionally, Japan had no special day to celebrate love. Neither were there many ways for girls to express their affections for boys. The introduction of Valentine's Day solved both of these social oversights. With the chocolate industry backing you up, even the shyest of girls can slip a box of chocolates to the boy she likes. Chocolates given out of love are called ‘honmei- choco', and most guys secretly hope they'll receive a box. The romantic possibilities of this celebration are not lost on manga writers.
Ever the romantic, Gosho (both o's long) Aoyama offers a dramatic Valentine's Day in Mei Tantei Conan (Detective Conan). Aoyama exploits the romantic angst caused by teen detective genius Shinichi being shrunk by villains' drugs into the body of a child. Taking the name Conan, he becomes at once separated from yet always beside his sweetheart, Ran. In one case, Ran's boyfriend-hunting friend, Sonoko, persuades her to visit a lodge in the woods for a chocolate making retreat. The lodge has an urban myth surrounding it that claims whoever eats the chocolate you make there will fall in love with you. Naturally, this fun outing results in a murder which Conan secretly solves. But after the mystery's over, the chocolate giving becomes bittersweet when Shinichi's absence prevents Ran from delivering her honmei-choco to the boy she loves.
On the lighter side, Meimi's double identity in Kaito (long o) Saint Tail (Saint Tail) provides our heroine the perfect opportunity to secretly express her affections for the boy she likes without revealing who she is. Classmate Asuka Jr. is determined to reveal the identity of the mysterious thief Saint Tail, and when Meimi is caught on film with her hedgehog, he recalls Saint Tail once stole such an animal. Asuka Jr. persuades the photographer to ask Meimi on a date to find out if the hedgehog really is a stuffed animal, as Meimi claims. This amusing, romantic, action-filled little adventure ends with a bang when one of Saint Tail's signature balloons explodes in front of Asuka Jr., and inside are chocolates for him.
Chocolates can be delivered secretly, but usually they are handed over in person with a blushing, "Please have this." The title character of Card Captor Sakura (Cardcaptors) offers a good example when she shyly, stutteringly manages to give a box to her infatuation, Yuki. The scene is as sweet as the chocolates, for she's so overcome with emotion, she can't even say the words.
Not all Valentine's chocolate is given out of a sense of romantic love. Surprisingly, the vast majority of Valentine's chocolate is ‘giri-choco', or obligation chocolate. This chocolate is given to co-workers, bosses, and occasionally classmates. After all, you don't want the men in your life to feel bad by not receiving any chocolate. In one Kodomo no Omocha (Children's Toys, Kodocha) plot, this sense of obligation gets the heroine into trouble. In her absent-minded exuberance, Sana accidentally gave some giri-choco to a boy who wasn't in her elementary school class. Later, the boy complicates Sana's life because he believes she gave him honmei-choco.
Any event so charged with dramatic potential is the perfect target for comedy. Realistically, popular guys might receive eight or ten chocolates, but in series as varied as Urusei Yatsura (Lum*Urusei Yatsura) and Koko wa Greenwood (Here Is Greenwood), the popular characters receive countless mounds of chocolates while the main characters are lucky if they get even one.
Another theme commonly used to add humor to Valentine's Day plots is homemade chocolate. With the advent of giri-choco, some quality to differentiate it from honmei-choco was desired. Like any gift of love, making chocolate by hand is considered a more sincere gift, but manga and anime heroines are often comedically cursed with poor cooking skills. Ranma 1/2's Akane is such a leading lady. When Ranma presumptiously tells Akane to buy chocolate for Valentine's, instead of making it by hand, she responds appropriately by sending him skyward.
Even series as unromantic as G.S. Mikami take advantage of the holiday. A pot of chocolate from the magic shop, a book on golem making from the mad-scientist Dr. Chaos, and good intentions on the part of the seventeenth century ghost Okinu send the hungry and impoverished "hero," Yokoshima, running from chocolate visions of desire.
As the holiday has progressed in Japan, Valentine's Day has expanded. It's now considered sweet to give chocolates to your male relatives, as seen in Cardcaptors. Sakura gives chocolates not only to the guy she likes but to her beloved father, her annoying brother, and even her absent grandfather, to whom she also sends a loving card and some flowers.
While all this giving to guys may seem very one-sided, it must be mentioned that Japan's confectionary companies have created a second holiday to compensate. Dubbed "White Day" because it was initially promoted by marshmallow manufacturers, March 14th is the day for men to compensate for the chocolates they've received, usually at double the value. After a month of waiting, young women get to find out if the guy they gave honmei-choco to actually likes them. Of course, many gifts are given out of obligation for this holiday, too, but if the gift is exceptionally expensive or ostentatious, then it's an unspoken indicator that your sweetheart's affections are yours. Although Valentine's Day is an older, more popular holiday than White Day, it is a mystery that this romantic March event is seldom mentioned in manga. Perhaps it is overshadowed by the budding cherry blossoms, but more likely, authors don't want to wait a month to resolve a Valentine inspired romance!
A common Japanese complaint during the first half of February is that Valentine's Day is a holiday cooked up by the chocolate makers to pressure people into buying products. While this romantic celebration has been heavily commercialized, as Detective Conan's other pint-sized genius, Haibara, points out, Saint Valentine was beaten to death after being tortured. All gruesomeness aside, he died because he defied a Roman Imperial war-time command which forbade marriages, for men who weren't married were believed to make better soldiers. Unable to deny this holy sacrament, Valentine secretly married lovers and was martyred for it. Such a sacrifice for love, combined with the romantic Roman holiday Lupercalia, has evolved into the holiday we know today. Ultimately, regardless of advertising, isn't love worth a day of celebration? February 14th only comes once a year, so whether you have a sweet tooth or not, here's hoping we all get a little chocolate.