A shock announcement from an avid supporter of Japan’s giri-choco tradition.

Valentine’s Day in Japan is a very different celebration compared to overseas, as only women are expected to give gifts of sweets or chocolate on 14 February (with a return gift from men a month later on White Day), and not only to the object of their affections, but to male and female colleagues and friends as well.

These so-called “giri choco”, or obligation chocolates, have become a controversial topic in recent years, with chocolatier Godiva ruffling feathers with a full-page newspaper ad last year, asking Japan to reconsider the unusual, and often stressful and costly, practice.

However, Yuraku Confectionery Co., the makers of one of Japan’s most beloved chocolate brands, Black Thunder, has always been a staunch supporter of the giri choco tradition.

▼ Black Thunder

Image: Wikipedia/Boneyard90

Since the mid-’90s, the company has been promoting Black Thunder as the perfect giri chocolate for Valentine’s Day, pointing out that the tasty but unpretentious chocolates (usually priced at less than 100 yen [US$0.93]) are a great way to show your appreciation without having anyone mistake it for a declaration of true love.

▼ So when our reporter was given this leaflet while walking the streets of Tokyo the other day, it stopped him dead in his tracks.

▼ The headline read “Black Thunder suspends giri choco?!”

▼ And this was our reporter’s reaction to the news.

In Japan, Black Thunder has become so synonymous with giri choco that our reporter couldn’t fathom a Valentine’s Day without it. Lost for words and confused by the headline, he read the details on the leaflet, which had been produced by Yuraku Confectionery, to find out exactly what was happening.

Every year, Black Thunder gets its own pop-up shop ahead of Valentine’s Day, selling giri-choco related products at Tokyo Okashi Land at Ichibangai inside Tokyo Station. This year, the pop-up shop would be appearing again at the same location, from 11 January to 14 February, but this time there would be a twist.

According to the news, there would be no giri-choco related products in this year’s lineup at all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. None. Instead, the article put forth a rather puzzling suggestion, by asking “How about focussing on souvenirs at Valentine’s?!”

▼ An alien appears along with the message:
“A mysterious shape creeps up on Yuraku Confectionery”

This mysterious alien arrival at Black Thunder’s pop-up store suggests a very different theme for this year’s Valentine’s campaign. Reading further into it reveals this statement from the president of Yuraku Confectionery.

“We think the culture of giri chocolates, which help to convey feelings of gratitude and bring happiness to both the buyer and receiver, is a wonderful custom. Up until now, our company has supported the tradition of giri chocolates as a chance to convey normal feelings of thanks. However, in response to the opinions of “After thinking I was her favourite, it turned out to be an obligation chocolate” and “I thought I had one chance, but I didn’t”, now we don’t know whether giri chocolates are a good thing or a bad thing…We’re thinking maybe we should stop giri chocolates.”

This was a pretty shocking statement from the self-styled “King of Giri Choco”. In fact, this anti-obligation-chocolate sentiment was similar to Godiva’s standpoint on the issue last year, which Black Thunder vocally opposed.

According to the article, Yuraku Confectionery had now been “brainwashed by an alien so that the existence of giri choco had totally disappeared from their heads.”

So this year, instead of their usual giri choco pop-up store, the company will be going in a different direction, with a shop that sells regional-exclusive souvenir Black Thunder varieties instead.

▼ Which means we’ll now be able to give people Soy Sauce-flavoured chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

In addition to the soy-sauce variety, there’ll be a whole range of exclusives on offer, including:

▼ The Large Black Thunder

▼ The Large White Black Thunder, usually only limited for sale in Hokkaido.

▼ The White Black Thunder, mini size

▼The Pink Black Thunder, mini size

▼ The Tokyo Black Thunder

▼ And the White Black Thunder, using salt and brown sugar from Okinawa.

It looks like Black Thunder is pre-empting another chocolate war against brands opposed to the giri-choco tradition this year, coming out as the first to make headlines with their own boycott of obligation chocolates for Valentine’s Day 2019.

Still, we can’t help but think this might all be a clever marketing plan to make customers think about a world without giri choco. In Japan, it’s customary to bring back sweets as souvenirs for colleagues and friends after going on a holiday or business trip, so this sense of obligation exists year-round in Japan, not just on February 14.

By selling souvenir chocolates instead of their usual giri choco specials for Valentine’s Day, Yuraku Confectionery is essentially just swapping out one type of obligation chocolate for another. And if we’re going to frown upon one type of giri choco, should we abolish them all?

With over a month left until Valentine’s Day, our reporter is still holding out for some of the usual giri-choco-branded packs to appear at the pop-up shop. If not, though, he’d be just as happy to receive a Soy Sauce Black Thunder. Anything will do really, so long as he doesn’t have to join Seiji on 14 February, who’s been begging for chocolates from strangers outside Shibuya Station on Valentine’s Day for the past two years.

Photos © SoraNews24