Monday, February 13, 2012

V-Day: More fun in the Philippines



The first year that I lived in Japan was the year I spent at the International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo as a third-year college exchange student from the Ateneo de Manila.

Fate brought me to Japan and I can still distinctly remember the circumstances for this. I’d seen a notice for the exchange program on the bulletin board for the Dean’s Office at the Ateneo; and just a few days before that, I’d finished the last class for a summer writing workshop at the Ateneo taught by the great Filipino novelist Bienvendo Santos, who’d lived in the United States for many years.

“Sometimes you need to leave your country to get a better perspective of it, and of your culture,” he had said. “And this can only benefit your writing.”

I hesitated nary a second to apply for this exchange program, and this was how I found myself in Japan for one year of fun and immeasurable learning.

V-DAY IN JAPAN


However, my story digresses as this entry is about Valentine’s Day. Coming from the Philippines where Valentine’s Day is a very big deal and the man (or in the case of a college student, the boy) in one’s life spends a great deal of time and effort to impress and romance on February 14, it was a very big shock for me to suddenly find myself in a country where the burden of Valentine’s Day is on the girls.

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WOMENS' POWER

Yes, Valentine’s Day in Japan is a day for the women to show their affection for the men in their lives. And, no, the word “men” is not a typo. Japanese women give chocolates on Valentine’s Day to most of the men in their lives: teachers, bosses, classmates, work colleagues, boyfriends or husbands.

It’s a pretty commercial venture as chocolate makers do get a windfall of a day, with every woman in Japan buying an average of 15 boxes of chocolates. Each one costing at least 500 yen perhaps. You do the math. Of course, chocolate makers are smiling all the way to the bank on Valentine’s Day.

And to answer your next question: yes, Japanese chocolate makers did think up of this gimmick to encourage a tradition of women buying chocolates for men on Valentine's Day. And it's a double whammy for them, too, as they then created White Day on March 15 which is supposed to be the day that men "return" all the chocolates given to them by women.

As expected, there’s a hierarchy for one’s chocolate giving. Most men will get a box of chocolates that is referred to as “giri choco,” meaning a courtesy box of chocolates. This goes out to the bosses, teachers and most periphery males.

THE LANGUAGE OF CHOCOLATES

Then there’s the real deal of a chocolate – and this goes out to the crush of one’s life, or else the boyfriend or husband.


Actually, husbands don’t really get great chocolates from the wives, as far as I can tell, although they’ll come home from work on V-Day with about 15 boxes of “giri choco” from the women in the office. Of course he doesn’t eat chocolate anyway -- or at least not this much of it! -- and so it’s the wife and daughters who end up happy over the giri choco from all the secretaries at work.

Of course the boyfriend is the object of all efforts for the single girl. In fact, for this category, the best chocolate is not a store-bought box but a home-made one that spells out E-F-F-O-R-T in big, bold letters. The harder to make, the better and the more the brownie points. And you guessed right. The tragedy here is that the girl will spend the entire weekend shopping for ingredients, pouring over a recipe book for the one time in the year she'll ever try to make chocolate, and dirtying up her kitchen to whip up this amazing box of delicacies -- and boyfriend won't be eating much of it anyway as most guys don't even like sweets in volume.

A CRUSH OF A CHOCOLATE


The crush is a different story altogether as well. Girls can't make home-made chocolates as it will look too trying hard; but they can't just give a typical box of chocolates either. So the most arduous hunt for the perfect chocolates are for the crushes: they need to look in very good taste, and of course they need to taste wonderfully -- basically, that perfect combination of trying a lot and yet not looking like you're trying at all. Just like so many other aspects of life...haha.

Buy a chocolate that's too cheap and it will reflect badly on you; but buying a chocolate that's way above the psychological price point will have an adverse effect as well.


The best kind is the limited edition chocolate -- meaning a chocolate created and sold especially for Valentine's Day. Another option is the chocolate with liqueur, a box of very dark chocolates, or a chocolate in the form of a wine bottle -- basically anything that packages chocolates as less sweet than they are so that they will be more appealing to guys.

And what are the price points like?

An average chocolate is between 300 yen and 1000 yen. For a crush or boyfriend chocolate, it's between 2000 and 4000 yen, although some chocolates go as high as 10,000 yen. But choosing the most appropriate chocolate is a pretty serious matter as well, as the chocolate is a subtle way of declaring your interest or affection for someone, but within a pretty harmless context. Every woman in Japan can give a chocolate to a guy in Japan on Valentine's Day so, in a way, it's a great opportunity to tell someone you like him without being ever so direct.

And you really see some of the most beautifully-wrapped chocolates around Valentine's Day.

MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES


So, yes, it's true. Valentine's Day is way more fun in the Philippines. Especially if you're a girl. I'd much rather be on the receiving end of things than on the pro-active side.

Happy Hearts Day from all of us at Travelife Magazine, working very hard at the office for Travelife Japan Night at the Dusit Thani Manila on February 16 and for Lunch with a Geisha & Travelife on February 17. So hard, in fact, that you wouldn't even think it's Valentine's Day.

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