Bittersweet Valentine memories, mostly sweet
Happy Valentine's Day! February the 14th may mean flowers, a romantic dinner, or promises you don't intend to keep for other people, but to me it will always the Day Of Chocolate.
Valentine's Day is a very odd and overly commercialized day in Japan, where the giving and receiving of chocolate doesn't have that much to do with romance. Females are made to feel obligated to hand out chocolates to people they don't care about, such as teachers and bosses, while males anxiously wait to see if they get 'enough' chocolates to satisfy their egos. There are whole lines of inexpensive chocolate products suitable for giving, called giri choco (obligation chocolate). Unlike in the Western world, it's not a day for men to give something to their female love interests. (March 14th, called "White Day", has been sort of artificially designated as the males-give-back-to-females day.)
Still, some people do retain some of the romantic intent of Valentine's, especially younger women and girls. Telling a boy you like him is difficult in any society, but it's really pretty hard in a society where being open with your feelings is not traditionally encouraged. The inability to tell that special boy/girl about ones feelings for him/her forms the crux of a lot of the plots of shoujo manga, manga for girls. Telling someone about your feelings is a huge deal, called kokuhaku, a word that also means to confess (as in confess to a crime). Valentine's Day is supposed to be one day when a girl can safely kokuhaku her feelings, acccompanied by a beaitufully wrapped, non-obligation chocolate.
I braved a chocolate-sweetened kokuhaku twice. Once when I was 14, to the boy that both my best friend and I had a big crush on for a year; then later in senior high school, when I was 16. Neither kokuhaku lead to anything, sadly, but I still remember the nervous anticipation of choosing the chocolate, and the thrill and fear of giving it. (Both times the wrapped chocolate was placed in the boy's shoebox ( getabako), the traditional postbox at any Japanese school.)
Both of those boys are now probably married with kids somewhere in Japan. I don't even remember their names anymore...isn't it weird how we forget?
For an exaggerated yet sometimes very realistic view of high school romance a la Japan, His and Her Circumstances, aka KareKano, is a very popular manga series that is available in English. There was also a short lived anime series, though the story of that ends rather abruptly around volume 6 or 7 of the original manga. And, if you're out to impress your sweetie with something handmade and chocolate, check out the posts tagged chocolate here.
(* Bonus question: What movie did the line "flowers, chocolate, promises you don't intend to keep" come from?)