Valentine’s Day, a celebration of romance and love that takes place annually on February 14th in many places around the world, and Japan welcomes it wholeheartedly.
On Valentine’s Day, people usually send cards, flowers, gifts, and chocolates to their loved ones and spend the day together with their lover. However, people in Japan celebrate it slightly differently. In Japan, ONLY women give usually ONLY chocolates to men and not only to the man they love! Giving chocolate to so many men is the reason why some women would even say that Valentine’s is quite an exhausting event here in Japan.
Everything started when a confectionery and cake company, Morozoff Ltd., introduced the event in 1936 by running an advertisement aimed at foreigners, followed by a promotion of heart shaped chocolates later in 1952. The promotion was the start of many campaigns such as Isetan’s “Valentine Sale“ and it quickly escalated as many other companies started to follow their example.
Therefore, Valentine’s Day became an annual event, part of the Japanese lives and, due to the marketing campaigns being aimed at women, a tradition in which ONLY women are the ones giving gifts to men, typically cookies or chocolate.
Also, compared to other countries, Valentine’s in Japan is more of a festivity where you acknowledge all the men in your life, rather than an event focusing only on couples and love. Therefore, co-workers, family, even platonic relationships are included as there are many types of chocolate women give as presents, depending on the relationship they have with the person receiving it.
There are three main types of chocolate that you can offer as gifts during this festivity.
Let`s start with..
Honmei Choco are those chocolates you give to your special one in order to express your romantic interest or love. This is the closest to Valentine’s as we know it in the West.
Japan is well-known for its beautifully wrapped boxes and putting a lot of work in the products` presentation, so Valentine’s makes no exception.
Expressing your love can get quite pricey sometimes and it can be quite hard to pick from the multitude of chocolate boxes, special editions and confectionery companies. But the more expensive the “true feelings” chocolate is, the better, so it is different than the other types on this list.
When it comes to Honmei choco nothing beats the home-made sweets made with lots of love. It is the ultimate expression of love and making someone feel special in Japan. Time and effort are involved not only when making the sweets, but also when wrapping and decorating them, therefore you can feel the dedication and feelings put into so you get to appreciate every bite, thus turning the home-made treats into the most prized honmei choco and a notable sign of affection.
Giri Choco is literally translated as obligation chocolates. Giri chocolates are really given out of obligation, usually to your superiors, co-workers, relatives, teachers or friends. There`s even the 超義理チョコ(Chou Giri Choco) or “Super Obligation Chocolate”.
There are also cases when you really don’t want to give them chocolate, but as a Japanese, you`ll feel restless if you don’t, or feel judged by others. Social pressure is no joke, and despite both men and women taking to Twitter to anonymously say how much they hate giri choco, it is still a tradition.
On the bright side, there’s been cases of offices outright banning giri choco, to help put a stop to this, because no one wants to be the first one to stop giving chocolates.
Tomo Choco is the most recent tradition, probably branching out from giri choco, and it’s a beautiful way to express your friendship. Tomo choco comes from the Japanese word tomo that means friend and usually it is a chocolate gift given by women to their female friends as a sign of appreciation and gratitude. As a sign of genuine friendship, the “Friend Chocolate” can also be given to your male friends, so they won’t feel left out (but sometimes they are recipients of giri choco, so it can get confusing). Most popular treats are cookies wrapped in a clear plastic bag, sometimes with a simple message attached on it (such as “Thank you”, for example).
In Japan, thanks to Valentine’s Day, many women choose to confess their love for someone through Honmei Chocolate, however sometimes it might be easier said than done. We need to muster up the courage in order to make our feelings known by the other. Some might not be so sure of the other person’s feelings making them feel insecure, but if you play your cards right you have the possibility to test the ground first by giving out giri choco with the intention of honmei choco (a bit more nicely wrapped, maybe even homemade) and in case the other person doesn’t reciprocate your feelings, you can brush it off as obligation chocolate. Quite convenient, right?
Although this event seems quite exciting especially when you’re younger and might help you not only confess your feelings, but also express your gratitude towards those that have been supporting you, be it through nicely wrapped baked cookies, home-made chocolates or even store-bought chocolates, sometimes it might be rather tiring when working in a company as you devote a lot of energy and money in preparing the gifts for your co-workers and it kind of loses its meaning of conveying your love and gratitude. Hence, the aforementioned ban on Valentine’s chocolate in some Japanese companies in order to ease the stress.
Another Valentine-related event Japan has is the White Day, an event that started due to another successful campaign launched by a confectionery company. The color was chosen because of the image of purity white has (also because white is the color of sugar) and it represents pure love. White Day is celebrated exactly one month after Valentine’s Day (on March 14th) and is a “reply day” when men who were given chocolate will be returning the favour by getting gifts at least two or three times more valuable than what they have received during Valentine’s Day. This is only in case they are accepting the relationship and the feelings behind honmei chocolate. If they want to cut it off and have no plan in dating the person they’ve received chocolate from, they return a gift of the same value of what they were given.
In the past, men were supposed to give out only marshmallows during White Day, which was… horrible. Seriously, men would receive chocolates and women were supposed to receive marshmallows?!? Unfair! Thankfully, men now give out not only chocolate but also gifts such as jewelry, clothes, and other types of sweets.
I believe that the different approach of celebrating the event is quite interesting and having the White Day one month after, when men give response gifts to women they’ve received chocolate from is pretty unique. White Day is also marked in South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian countries.
Japan celebrates not only Valentine’s Day but also other originally Western festivities such as Christmas, Halloween etc. and it is fun to discover in what way they adopted the holiday, what is similar and what is different and what changes they’ve applied to the different celebrations.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day in your country and have you ever celebrated any Japanese Festivities?
・The 2 Kinds of Chocolate That Japanese Women Give on Valentine’s
・3 Great Tokyo Spots to Indulge in Chocolate this Valentine’s Day!
・The Sweetest Holidays of the Year: Valentine’s Day and White Day