Japanese women are pushing back against a tradition the dictates they must give chocolates to male colleagues on Valentine’s Day, with growing anger at the practice of “forced giving”.
Until recently, women in the workplace were expected to buy chocolates for their male workmates as part of a tradition called giri choco – literally, obligation chocolates.
Men are supposed to reciprocate on 14 March on White Day – an event dreamed up by chocolate makers in the early 80s to boost sales.
But there is growing evidence that giri choco is falling out of favour.
For a growing number of people, the pressure to avoid causing offence by spending thousands of yen on chocolates for coworkers is becoming intolerable. Some companies are now banning the practice, which is seen by many workers as a form of abuse of power and harassment.
A survey found that than 60% of women will instead buy chocolates as a personal treat on 14 February. More than 56% said they would give chocolates to family members, while 36% would make the same gesture towards partners or the objects of a crush.
Keeping on the right side of colleagues, however, was furthest from their thoughts, with just 35% saying they planned to hand out chocolate treats to men at their workplace, according to the poll by a Tokyo department store.
“Before the ban, we had to worry about things like how much is appropriate to spend on each chocolate and where we draw the line in who we give the chocolates to, so it’s good that we no longer have this culture of forced giving,” one of the surveyed office workers said, according to the Japan Today website.
SoraNews24, meanwhile, reported on the recent phenomenon of gyaku choco – reverse chocolate – in which men give chocolates to spouses, girlfriends or prospective lovers.
Giving chocolate as Valentine’s Day gifts took off commercially in Japan in the mid-1950s, growing into a multimillion-dollar market that provides some manufacturers with a sizeable chunk of their annual sales in just a few days.
But the backlash against giri choco has prompted some confectioners to revamp their marketing campaigns.
In the run-up to Valentine’s Day last year, the Belgian chocolatier Godiva caused a stir when it ran a full-page newspaper ad urging businesses to encourage female employees not to hand out giri choco if they felt they were doing so under duress.
“Valentine’s Day is a day when people convey their true feelings, not coordinate relationships at work,” the ad said.
While individual consumers weigh up their gift-giving options, Japan’s collective Valentine’s chocolate obsession is gathering pace as the day approaches.
Japan Airlines will hand out chocolates to passengers – male and female – on all of its domestic and international flight on 14 February, while a hot spring resort near Tokyo has unveiled a bath filled with steaming “chocolate water”.
But the prize for the most improbable Valentine’s gimmick must go to a chain of sushi restaurants whose diners will be offered slivers of raw yellowtail raised on feed mixed with, yes, chocolate.