Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. In Japan, it is one of the celebrations that people look forward to, especially junior high school students. It is the time when women get to show their true feelings to men by giving them chocolates. The celebration is quite unique compared to other countries as it has been shaped up by commercial organizations. It is said that a week before Valentine’s Day, chocolate companies in Japan make half of their annual sales. This means a lot of chocolates and a lot of money!
Valentine’s Day is about giving. However, Japanese people follow a unique custom of giving – only women give to men and not vice versa. Japanese women are normally shy compared to other female nationalities. It is only during this time that women take the initiative to profess their love or humor their male colleagues. Of course, for younger people, this is a bittersweet romance which can blossom into courting. Men don’t need to do anything for women until the 14th of March, which is White Day. It is at this time that they give women something in return.
Although Valentine’s Day is a lover’s holiday, it is somehow unclear why it turned into a quasi-feminist chocolate craze. It is said that in the 1950s, a company advertised the sale of chocolates on Valentine’s Day to the non-Japanese who were living in the country. It was followed by Japanese companies that also wanted to get on board.
With the first Valentine’s sale in Japan in 1958, Tokyo chocolatier Mary Chocolate’s event generated a total sale of 150 yen. This means the company sold just 3 bars of chocolates in 3 days. Nonetheless, the annual sales of chocolate companies increased over time. In 2005, the Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan (日本チョコレート・ココア協会) had an annual sale of 3.6 billion dollars.
Chocolates are given with love, which is not only expressed in the taste but in the packaging as well. Some are even excessively packaged to encourage customers into buying them. Some wrap the chocolates in glittery ribbons and tissues to attract buyers.
Women give two kinds of chocolate to men, the “giri choco” and the “honmei choco.”
1. Giri choco
Giri choco is also called the “obligatory chocolate.” These chocolates are given to male acquaintances or friends whom you don’t necessarily love. These include co-workers, bosses, cousins, male friends, and so on. Giri choco is given to them so they don’t feel left out during the celebration.
Under this category is the so-called “cho-giri choco (超義理チョコ),” which is also known as the “ultra-obligatory chocolate.” This is for the men who don’t really matter in your life yet deserve to be given.
Giri choco can be differentiated from the rest as they are the run-of-the-mill type. They look so ordinary and not that expensive. These chocolates are not meant to be romantic but to show a sense of responsibility rather than love.
2. Honmei choco
The chocolate given by women to express their sincere love to their counterpart is the “honmei choco.” This means “favorite chocolate.” Japanese women spend a lot of money on high-end brand chocolates in order to profess their love for men. Some honmei choco are homemade and are obviously completely different from the giri choco.
Nobody knows for sure, but the man you’ve given honmei chocolates to might just become your boyfriend. It is very important that you distinguish the chocolates from each other, or else, you might get misunderstood. A guy might become interested in you because he thinks you like him.
Giving these men chocolates during Valentine’s Day will also obligate them to give back to you during White Day. At this time, men are given the chance to profess their love to women other than just returning the favor. It is also said that they have to give back something more expensive. Flowers and candies are also given on this day and chocolates are usually white in color.
In Japanese department stores, gift reminders are displayed to remind men that White Day is fast approaching. This will give them no excuse not to prepare. However, some women expect extravagant gifts in return, such as a Gucci bag, necklaces, and the like.
Preparing Valentine’s Day chocolates for men is actually time-consuming. There is a term for this called “choco fatigue.” Some women even wish that giving out giri choco would just end as it also requires a lot of preparation. This includes standing in line for about half an hour in front of a chocolate shop just to purchase chocolates and cookies. It is even harder when it’s freezing cold outside.
In order to fight the chocolate mission creep, women make their own chocolates at home instead. This way, they save time and money, and they can also be more creative in decorating their chocolates. This style is common for women in their 20s as some think that making the chocolates by themselves is a sign of true love.
Most of the time, you’ll see large displays of chocolates in department stores as well as grocery stores in Japan during the month of January. Expect to see the stores packed with a variety of chocolates, cooking tools, and women! Some major stores that display and offer several Valentine’s items are Isetan (伊勢丹), Marui (丸井), and Mitsukoshi (三越). You can visit these places for the ultimate Valentine’s Day shopping experience.
Valentine’s Day in Japan is indeed fun. It is one of the most awaited events of teenagers. For those who are only staying in the country for a short period of time, this is a rare chance for you to celebrate the event in a unique way. The romantic hype is in the air at this time of the year.
And ladies, please don’t forget to prepare some chocolates for your men, whether it’s giri choco or honmei choco. Remember, handmade ones are considered more heartfelt. Somehow, giving Japanese men some chocolates is enough reason for them to smile once in a while despite the hard work they’re doing.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Spread love!