“I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.” Romans 1:14
A beautiful arrangement of various chocolates greeted me as I walked into the store, reminding me that Valentine’s Day was right around the corner. If you thought romance was in the air, you would be entirely mistaken. What was on display is actually known as “giri choco” (義理チョコ), which means literally “obligation chocolate.” This chocolate is normally purchased by women and given to their male colleagues, casual acquaintances and others as an expression of their friendship or gratitude. Romantic feelings have nothing to do with it. Giri choco is customarily given by women to the men in their life circles to help them feel appreciated during the nation-wide celebration. But there is another sub-category called “cho-giri choco” meaning “ultra-obligation chocolate.” This is given to certain men solely out of duty because you feel trapped by social circumstances to include them.
It is important to note that giri choco is not to be confused with “honmei choco” (本命チョコ), which is “true feeling chocolate” and is normally given to husbands, boyfriends or even prospective boyfriends. Honmei choco is traditionally a higher grade of chocolate that often comes in special shapes, arranged artistically in ornate confectionary boxes and is considerably more expensive.
The subtle differences between these two types of chocolates helps the recipient to avoid getting his signals crossed and misinterpreting the giver’s intent. While men are the primary recipients of chocolate in Japan on Valentine’s Day, they are certainly not off the hook. In order to sell more chocolate, the National Confectionary Association cleverly designated March 14 as “White Day,” when men must reciprocate by giving chocolate (often white chocolate), cookies, flowers or other small gifts to the women who gave them chocolate exactly one month earlier. Obligation flows in both directions; no one escapes.
“Giri” is a very important value among the Japanese, although it can at times feel oppressive and has even been described as the “burden hardest to bear.” Obligation is certainly a lower form of motivation, but there are good and bad aspects to it that should not be confused. An example of obligation as a good thing can be found in the Bible, when the Apostle Paul gladly accepted the obligation to preach the gospel to others, not viewing it as a burden, but rather as an incredible privilege (Romans 1:15-17). But sometimes even the noblest forms of obligation can subtly morph into patterns of legalism and undermine the very freedoms Jesus purchased on the cross at great cost to Himself. The fine line separating freedom and obligation can at times be hard to discern, but God has provided His Spirit to help us distinguish these matters so that we might offer up our best to Him. After all, Jesus did not enter our world to redeem us because of obligation, but rather, out of love. That is a gift worth celebrating and imitating.