Tag Archives: Valentine’s Day

Say it with Pocky

For a long time, KitKat has been marketing itself as a kind of lucky chocolate. February and March are the season for university entrance examinations in Japan and KitKat has used a play on words to imply that pairing your study time with its chocolate bars will bring certain success: kitto katsu, 屹度勝つ, you will undoubtedly win, or gain victory. You can see how this would appeal to an anxious high school senior, munching away on sustaining sugary snacks while they study for potentially the most important exams of their life.

In recent years there has been less pressure on high school students; with the declining birthrate there are fewer students, and the exam hell imprinted on the imaginations of people in the West is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of what every high school student goes through. Universities need to fill their places and in the autumn there is a system of early admission which assures many students of a place. Of course, the ones who want to go to prestigious universities and other students who have not yet secured a place still face the exam hell of February and March.

In past years I have seen combination packs of KitKats and a matching mug for sale in convenience stores, but this year I haven’t seen any. KitKat has moved into other auspicious times of the year; the post office sells specially-packaged bars with the animal of the next year on the box and an ‘otoshidama’ (お年玉) envelope for New Year money attached to the back.

With such rich pickings to be had in the auspicious chocolate market, if only you can carve your own niche, it’s really a wonder that it has taken Glico this long to market its Pocky varieties as more than just ‘stick to fun’. Of course, there are the many seasonal and regional variations, but until now Glico hasn’t messed with the Pocky name itself. But this spring, Glico has introduced a range of ten different named boxes, all with an eye to the Valentine chocolate market and beyond.

I don’t know how long these special boxes will be available, and not all the boxes have the special names. To find the originally-named boxes you have to poke along the shelf and past the regular boxes. Your reward will be the boxes below. Beneath each special name is a short phrase clarifying the message. Not all Pocky varieties have these special boxes, it’s confined to five varieties; the original red-box Pocky, thin Pocky, almond crush Pocky, heart-shaped strawberry Pocky and ‘adult milk’ (?) Pocky.

And now, with a drum roll, please, I’ll present these ten wonders, in reverse order, according to their awesomeness, having set myself up as the Pocky Authority:

#10: Okaecy


This is my least favourite. ‘Okaeshi’ (お返し) means a return gift, something you give to someone  after they have given you a gift. Under the name it says ‘おかえしです’, which simply means, ‘this is a return gift’.

#9: Lovecky


Going over-the-top with the heart-shaped, seasonal, specially-named strawberry-with-bits-in variety here, I’m putting Lovecky at #9, in large part because I’m not sure how Glico wants us to pronounce it. Under the name it says, ‘ai shitemasu’ (愛してます), or, I love you.

#8: Mamacky and Papacky

Mamacky           Papacky

In joint 8th place I’m putting the Mamacky and Papacky pair. I suppose these are aimed at the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day markets, but they’re some of the most difficult to find. Under Mamacky it says, ‘Mama, arigatou’ (ママ、ありがとう) or, thank you, Mum. Under Papacky it says (predictably), ‘Papa, arigatou’ (パパありがとう) or, thank you, Dad.

#6: Tomocky


Here is the pair to Lovecky, Tomocky. ‘Tomodachi’ (友達) is the Japanese word for ‘friend’ and under the name it says ‘kore kara mo, tomodachi’ (これからもともだち), from now on too, friends, or I suppose, let’s always be friends. I can see this one being quite a hit with high school girls.

#5: Thanky


The first of the thin Pocky pair, Thanky. Under the name it says, ‘itsumo sankyuu desu’ (いつもサンキューです) or, thank you always. Probably one of the more popular ones, it would be nice to have this one available permanently, but I suspect it won’t happen.

#4: Yorocky


Here comes Thanky’s twin, Yorocky. Under the name is the phrase, ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’ (よろしくお願いします), one of the great untranslatables. My dictionary app offers the following; please remember me, please help me, please treat me well, I look forward to working with you. It’s a way of appealing to someone for their patronage, really, and while that might sound odd in English, it’s amazing how often there are opportunities to use it. Another that might be good to have around.

#3: Ganbacky


Just as ‘yoroshiku onegaishimasu’ is a phrase for daily life, so is the wording on this box; ganbatte kudasai’ (がんばってください), or, please do your best or hang in there. You can use it to exhort someone in any endeavour. There’s also a version you can use to assure those around you of your intention to do your best; ganbarimasu, or 頑張ります. British fans of Takeshi’s Castle, an old Japanese series on repeat somewhere in the ether, will be familiar with this declaration, made by contestants before they attempt a challenge. Another Pocky there would probably be a permanent market for.

#2: Sukky


Here is the runner-up, the fantastically-named Sukky. The message on the box is ‘anata ga suki desu’, あなたが好きです, or, I like you. A clear candidate for Valentine’s Day and maybe next month’s White Day. Clearly the genius here is in the name, which Glico must have thought looked cool but of course looks just plain wrong. I have bought a number of these to take back to the UK as gifts. Excellent.

And in 1st place . . . another drumroll please . . .

#1: Giricky


Pipping Sukky, it’s original Pocky twin, to the post, ladies and gentlemen I give you Giricky. Disappointed? Maybe you don’t speak Japanese or don’t know about the particular traditions of Valentine’s Day in Japan.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is the day that girls and women give chocolate to men; men reciprocate (if they want to!) a month later, on March 14th, White Day. Valentine chocolate can be divided into two categories. The first is honmei choco, or genuine feeling chocolate. This is traditionally homemade chocolate or cakes and cookies and is given to a boyfriend or father. The other category is giri choco, or obligation chocolate, and is given in massive quantities in workplaces. I read recently that the average amount spent on each ‘obligation chocolate’ gift is ¥500 to ¥1,000. Clearly, it can be an expensive day.

But now, Japanese women and girls have this genius option: Giricky. The message on the box is ‘giri choko desu’, 義理チョコです, or, THIS IS OBLIGATION CHOCOLATE.

I have no words for how much I love this. Every year I see women buying huge amounts of chocolate, spending all that money, and then at work I see my male colleagues looking increasingly pleased with themselves through the day as they fill a carrier bag with all the chocolate they receive, puffed up on the smugness of (apparently) being popular.

I am hoping that this year a lot of women have decided against spending that ¥500 to ¥1,000 and have instead nipped down to their nearest convenience store, spent ¥130 and bought up a good supply of these boxes. I am imagining men across Japan going to work tomorrow, happily anticipating a haul of chocolate and instead receiving boxes of (admittedly yummy) Pocky emblazoned with the message: THIS IS OBLIGATION CHOCOLATE.

Be under no illusions, men of Japan. This is OBLIGATION chocolate. Happy Valentine’s Day.



Sugar high

It would be hard to escape the fact that today is Valentine’s Day, wherever you are in the world. For unashamed romantics, as the day draws to a close you may be feeling sad that it’s over for another year. For others, maybe the feeling is more one of relief that the world will no longer be full of pink hearts and red roses. In Japan, we’re just getting started. Valentine’s Day is the first half of a chocolate frenzy which will come round again in exactly a month’s time, but in March it will be called White Day and the giving will, to some extent, be reversed.

There are two kinds of gifts given today; ‘giri choco’ (義理チョコ) and ‘honmei choco’ (本命チョコ). These are chocolate gifts given to men, by women. The first, ‘giri choco’, or the rather splendidly named ‘obligation chocolate’, is given to co-workers and other men to whom the giver has no romantic attachment. Now, that may all sound quite inconsequential, but I remember reading several years ago that Japanese women working in companies could easily spend ¥10,000 on this obligation. That’s a lot of small bags or boxes of chocolate on a lot of male colleagues’ desks. The opposite of this is ‘honmei choco’, usually translated as ‘true feeling chocolate’, and this is generally more expensive, higher quality chocolate, and given to a boyfriend, husband or someone for whom the giver does have romantic feelings. It may be homemade, because that conveys genuine affection and dedication too.

For several weeks, the shops have been stocking more and more chocolate, all packaged ready to be given in obligation or the throes of true feeling, and by the beginning of this week it was all rather mad. I was in a department store on Tuesday evening, and the floor which sells all manner of food, from tea, coffee and rice crackers to cakes and chocolate was a kind of feeding frenzy of shoppers, all women and girls, buying large quantities of chocolate. The Godiva counter had someone conducting a very Japanese form of crowd control, holding a sign aloft with the kanji for ‘end of the queue’ while a small army of staff behind the counter struggled to keep up. Even the rice cracker counters, which normally have no chocolate, were selling chocolate-covered versions of their regular products.

Today I went into school with some trepidation. Working at a girls’ school, Valentine’s Day has mutated into a kind of giant chocolate celebration. You probably have no idea just how much chocolate and how many cookies approximately 1,000 girls can bring into school. You’ll just have to take my word for it, it’s a huge amount. On my way to the first lesson of the day I passed classrooms full of girls, just back from the morning assembly, gathered in a large group, each with boxes or bags of homemade goods, doling out one piece to each girl. The younger students were apparently not eating them, but squirrelled them away into carrier bags to take home. The older ones were already eating – at 8:35 in the morning.

By the time I made my way back to the staffroom two hours later, the air was thick with the smell of chocolate, and the students were crowding in the corridors, eyes glazed, louder than usual, and when I asked one to move so I could get past I had to ask three times. When she finally noticed me she shrieked a greeting but seemed unsure in which direction to move. I was just glad I only had two lessons today. In previous years I have taught more and every lesson has the same pattern; the lesson starts on a mass sugar high, no one can concentrate, but after a while they all crash and have no energy. I know all my colleagues will have worked very hard today, it’s a challenge to keep everyone going to the end of the lesson . . . when they re-group, share out some more sugar and repeat the process again . .  and again . . .  and again. Despite this heroic effort to try to consume it all on campus, they always fail miserably and have to lug carrier bags full of what remains home with them.

I heard from someone that Valentine’s Day has changed in recent years; instead of being a day to be obligated to give gifts to men, women have turned it more into a day to appreciate their friends and give chocolate to other women. The most recent development is to buy ‘my choco’ and eat it all yourself! I suppose the chocolate companies are happy as long as someone buys their wares.