In a gender-bending twist on the UK tradition, Valentine’s Day in Japan is all about women buying chocolate for the guys. And since the tradition was introduced in the 1950s it has proved increasingly big business, with women liberated from the home now expected to treat not only their other halves but also their senior males colleagues.
This year the day falls on a Monday, which has the many upmarket department store chocolatiers rubbing their hands in joy. With workplace etiquette as it is in Japan, there is a pressure for working women to buy chocolates for an ever wider circle of colleagues. If one woman in the office is buying, then the rest feel obliged to follow. It’s like a chocolate arms race.
This year though, Muji have taken a refreshingly different approach for those women hoping to add a personal touch to their gift. Their range of DIY chocolate kits come with all the ingredients and utensils needed to whip up everything from a batch of walnut brownie pieces to more elaborate ‘chocolates within a bigger heart-shaped chocolate’ concoctions. In a twist on the classic Betty Crocker 1950s marketing campaign, all that’s needed is to ‘add an egg’ and a few minutes of loving care in the kitchen to whip up the final results.
For a generation that seems to be falling out of love with designer brands, Muji’s approach could be a welcome alternative. And for those young working women, many of whom still live at home with their parents, who want to offer something a bit more personal to their darling, they could be just the ‘leg up’ needed.
How home-made chocolates would fare up against the Godivas and Chocolaterie de Monacos of this world in the workplace is a different matter. Perhaps it could be the next front in the chocolate wars – who has put the most effort into not only choosing but actually making their chocolates? Somehow I doubt it.
Finally, for all those reading who are thinking this sounds like either some kind of sexist nightmare (or paradise – depending on your gender I expect), 14th March is White day, when guys are expected to reciprocate.
Given the glass ceiling that seems to exist for female executives in a lot of Japanese workplaces, the gift list may not be as long, amongst colleagues at least. Then again with presents apparently often more along the lines of designer handbags than designer chocolates, the jurys still out on who’s really got the short straw here…