Obligation Chocolate, the Saddest of Chocolates

• ~300 words • 1 minute read

Leave it to Japan to make chocolate sad.

I say that lovingly, recalling my month in Japan several years ago wandering Tokyo and spending late nights in the sentō. There's a subtle sadness that touches everything, a quality seeming inherent to Japanese culture that I can't quite point at but see its outline when I squint. I see it when I watch things like The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness — a documentary about Studio Ghibli — and when I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.

I saw it when I walked past this to-the-point sign near Shinjuku:

Coffee and Whiskey

So it was not surprising to me when I learned about a new aspect of Japanese culture recently that also found a way to be a little bit... sad.

I present to you giri choco — otherwise known as "Obligation Chocolate."

During my time in Japan I'd learned about how they have a followup holiday to Valentine's Day called White Day exactly one month later. The idea is that each person in the partnership — traditionally male/female — has a special day to purchase gifts for the other person.

On Valentine's Day women give chocolates to men. Depending on the seriousness of the relationship you give a different kind of chocolate, ranging from the honmei-choco ("True Feelings" chocolate) to the bottom of the totem pole, our good friend giri choco.

There is a bluntness to its titling I appreciate.

Please, don't read too much into this chocolate I am giving you. I am obligated.

I learned about this from a participant in an ESL conversation group I've been facilitating the past few months. I'd already known about Valentine's Day and White Day in Japan, but had never heard about the chocolates!

"So, how do you know if you're receiving an obligation chocolate or a true feelings chocolate?"

I think the rule of thumb is, if you have to ask... it's almost certainly obligation chocolate.