For years, women in Japan have given chocolate to male coworkers for Valentine’s Day, but this year is probably going to be different.

Even more so than romance, Valentine’s Day is a day for chocolate in Japan. The local tradition is for women to give chocolate to men, and not just to their boyfriend or husband, but to their male coworkers too.

These platonic chocolate gifts are known as giri choco, or “obligation chocolate,” and yes, Japan has a separate day, White Day on March 14, when guys are supposed to give a gift in return to women who gave them sweets for Valentine’s Day. However, in recent years there’s been increased debate about whether the supposed benefits of obligation chocolate outweigh its drawbacks, and some think this year might mark a turning point.

Ostensibly, obligation chocolate is supposed to be an all-purpose thank-you for various acts of kindness and support the male coworker provided throughout the year. It’s not tied to a specific act of assistance, but general helpfulness on a day-to-day basis. However, with many people having spent the majority of the last year working from home, they’ve taken on a more independent workstyle, which often means its quicker to just do something yourself than ask a coworker to lend a hand, or to offer one yourself, and so arguably there’s less perceived need to say thank you.

Then there’s the fact that Valentine’s Day 2021 will be taking place while Japan is under a government-declared state of emergency, with people being asked to limit unnecessary excursions, a description that many would argue applies to going to the department store to buy obligation chocolate. Plus, if a woman and/or her male coworker are working from home, they’d either have to arrange to meet up in-person for her to give him his obligation chocolate, or she’d have to have it shipped to his home, adding another layer of hassle and cost.

Another factor is that this year February 14 falls on a Sunday, which is likely to dampen enthusiasm for at-office chocolate gifting since it’ll have to take place before or after Valentine’s Day itself. March 14 is going to be a Sunday too, and the chance of guys conveniently forgetting to give White Day return gifts to their female coworkers if they won’t see each other on the day itself seems like it’ll be higher than usual, which probably also isn’t going to do much to motivate women to go out and buy obligation chocolate for Valentine’s Day.

Despite the unflattering name, obligation chocolate isn’t something that women in Japan universally hate, and so it’s unlikely that it’ll disappear entirely. But considering that there are women who find it an unnecessary drain on their energy and wallet, and that even a lot of guys would prefer not receiving obligation chocolate in the first place, some companies that decide “Hey, let’s not do Valentine’s Day chocolate during the pandemic” may find that everyone is happier that way, and make it part of their office culture going forward.

Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso
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