February 10, 2011

same same... just korea (pt vii)

Obligatory Chocolate (an explanation & more)

This year marks the first Valentine’s Day in memory that I'm actually looking forward to, and it has little to do with my current relationship status. My excitement revolves around business, specifically marketing. Valentine's is a marketing success story in Asia. The roots of this success can be traced back to 1936, Japan. In that year a cake and confectionary company started to actively promote the holiday to foreigners. By 1936 the Japanese had already occupied Korea for 26 years, with this info I think it’s fair to assume that some marketing endeavors probably floated across the Sea of Japan.

Valentine's Day in Korea has since become a true Hallmark Holiday (Definition: A “Hallmark holiday" is a disparaging term, used to describe a holiday that is perceived to exist primarily for commercial purposes, rather than to commemorate a traditionally significant religious or secular event). Although cards don’t traditionally see a spike in sales, and neither do flowers. Chocolate, instead reigns supreme. So rather than Hallmark Holiday, I’m dubbing the phenomenon a Hershey Holiday. As interesting as a shift from cards, to chocolate is, it’s not why I’m interested in Valentines this year. As I mentioned above, it was marketing, and due to an ‘unfortunate translation and marketing error’, Japanese (and Korean) women thought they were the ones to buy chocolate for men.

Decades later Valentine’s Day in Korea remains an antonym to the western Celebration. I think it’s fascinating that on the Hershey Holiday, Corwin will face social pressure to buy me chocolate instead of the other way around.

Truthfully, I don't really care if she does get me chocolate; I've never actually liked Valentine’s Day, I hate the obligation that I never agreed to, and therefore love the marketing blunder that put the shoe on the other foot. The Japanese have a fascinating history with the holiday sprouting around the giving of obligatory chocolate, women giving chocolate to co-workers, and not just loved ones. That concept doesn't seem to have migrated as well as the foundation for the holiday in Korea. But another Japanese holiday, which did migrate, was created from the ashes of obligatory chocolate.

White day, or Reply Day, is a day of retribution started in 1980s by the National Confection Industry in Japan. On White Day men are expected to return the favour to the women who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s Day. The name, White Day, sprouts from the colour of the chocolate given on this Hershey Holiday. However, Chocolate is not the largest seller on this holiday, instead the main seller is non chocolate candy, such as Scotch Mints. I will thus change the Hershey Holiday term to Scotch Mint Holiday, all whilst keeping the definition of Hallmark Holiday.

For those of you that are single, and love to have your 'anti' valentine's day parties. I have good and bad news for you. First off, the good news, you get your own day! The bad news is that you have to wait until April 14th to get it. The Korean equivalent of an anti valentines celebration is aptly called 'black day'. If you did not receive chocolate on Valentine's Day, candy on White Day, or give for either occasion. Then the Black Day custom is to flock to Chinese restaurants and eat 자장면 (jajangmyeon), or black noodles. This is a holiday invented by the Koreans, not the Japanese, and is therefore mostly celebrated on this peninsula.

With three months in a row all celebrating the 14th of the month, I started to wonder if something was up. That it couldn't purely be coincidence? Could it? Intrigue led me to Google, and Google led me to the official Tourism Korea website. A subsection of the website listed the “Fun & Romantic Holidays in Korea”, according to this article the 14th of every month has a different celebration. At first I was shocked, but for a culture in which couples buy matching clothing, I concluded that it this was not really that out of place.

Most of the days are pretty self explanatory and the website (link) gives a short blurb on each (although no indication about the origin of these days). I'm just going to mention a couple of standouts, at least from my perspective!
January 14th: Calendar Day, Couples exchange planners and calendars and mark important events on them. I was unaware of this when this day slipped by. I'm left without a calendar and I always forget when mother's/father's day is.

June 14th: Kiss Day, kiss everyone you meet. I propose a swap in purpose with December 14ths Hug Day.

August 14th: Green Day, Couples seek nature and relax, yet this is during rainy season, so make sure you bring an umbrella. Singles drink soju to drown their loneliness. You might wonder, ‘why do singles drink soju on green day?’ The answer is easy, although not obvious to those not familiar with soju, soju bottles are all tinted green. It doesn’t really matter what brand or whether it’s plastic, glass or tetrapack, all the packages are green.

December 14th: Hug Day, this is the day where you hug your partner to chase away the cold. I think this holiday and June 14ths Kiss Day should be swapped. It should be hug everyone you meet, not kiss them, and kiss your partner to chase away the cold instead of simply hugging them. Although it turns December into a make out holiday, I think it would be much more socially acceptable to walk around hugging people than it would be going around kissing them. This is also besides the fact that some Koreans wear masks, to cover their mouths to prevent the spread of germs, so kiss access can be limited.

No comments:

Post a Comment