It is almost February… time passes by so quickly, isn`t it? In Japan, you can already see how fast things are getting ready for the next exciting event to come: Valentine`s Day; a celebration of romance and love that takes place annually on February 14th in many places around the world.
On Valentine`s day, people usually send cards, gifts and chocolates to the beloved ones and spend the day together with their lover. However, people in Japan celebrate it slightly different, I would even say unique. In Japan, women give chocolates to men and not only to the one they love, 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, the Valentine’s day became an annual event, part of the Japanese` lives and, due to the campaigns, a tradition when women are the ones giving gifts to men, typically cookies or chocolate.
Also, compared to other countries, it is more of a festivity where you acknowledge 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 and I will explain each of them in detail.
Let`s start with..
Honmei Choco are those chocolates you give to your special one in order to express your romantic interest or love.
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 booths and confectionery companies.
However, when it comes to Honmei choco nothing beats the home-made sweets made with lots of love for your beloved one. Time and effort are involved not only when making it, but also when wrapping and decorating the sweets, 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 ultimate honmei choco and a notable sign of affection.
Giri Choco is literally translated as obligation chocolates. Giri chocolates are given out of obligation, hence the name and is usually given to your superiors, co-workers, relatives, teachers or friends.
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, especially if everyone but that person got some, so for that, there`s the 超義理チョコ(Chou Giri Choco) or “Super Obligation Chocolate”.. it does sound a bit unfortunate, though.
Tomo Choco is a beautiful way to express your friendship. Tomo choco comes from the Japanese word tomo that means friend and as the name says, it is a chocolate given by women usually 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. Most popular treats are cookies wrapped in a clear plastic bags, sometimes with a simple message attached on it (such as “Thank you”, for example).
In Japan, thanks to the Valentine’s Day, many women choose to confess 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 ,so 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 bought chocolates, sometimes 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, reason why quite a few companies actually banned the event making it easier for their women employees.
Another event Japan has is the White Day, an event that started due to another successful campaign launched by a confectionary company. The color was chosen because of the image of purity white has(also because white is the colour of sugar) and it represents the pure love. This event is held one month after Valentine’s Day (on March 14th) and is a “reply day” when men who were given chocolate to 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, that in case they are accepting the relationship. 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.
Before, men used to give out chocolate, but nowadays returning gifts such as jewelry, clothes, sweets are more common presents.
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 . During your teen days, it can become such an exciting event, too.
As Japan has many different ways of celebrating not only Valentine`s day but also other western festivities such as Christmas, Halloween etc. is fun to discover in what way they took it , what is similar and what is different and what changes they’ve applied to the different celebrations.
How do you celebrate it in your country and have you ever celebrated any Japanese Festivities?
I would love to hear more about your experiences.
・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