Why More Japanese Women Are Opting Out of Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2018, 4:47 PM UTC

To any Japanese men who feel disappointed about missing out on chocolates from their female colleagues today: Take heart, it’s probably a good sign for the nation’s long-term economic health.

While Valentine’s Day is marked by romantic gestures in many countries, custom in Japan dictates that women buy chocolates and then share them around with all their male co-workers. While men are expected to reciprocate a month later, the problem is that women are obliged to participate, whether they like it or not.

But this year could be different, with more female workers talking about opting out. Just 15 percent of working women surveyed by recruitment website Shufu Job said they supported giving chocolates to co-workers and 33 percent opposed the practice. About 71 percent viewed it as a hassle they’d prefer to avoid.

Like being expected to serve tea to male colleagues, giving “giri choco” — obligation chocolates — is something that’s forced on women in companies and management should start supporting those who want to change it, said Kazuko Ito, an attorney at Mimosa Forest Law Office in Tokyo who specializes in human rights and gender equality.

The fact that more women feel they can challenge the custom is an indication of some progress in workplace relations. And this is crucial for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “womenomics” program, which aims to break down the gender barriers that keep women out of senior and influential roles.

None of this may matter to chocolate makers. A survey by online retailer Rakuten found that women who plan to spend less on chocolate for male colleagues intend to buy more for themselves and their female friends.