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Valentine’s Day in Japan

03/15/2022

In a nutshell, women won’t be waking up to red roses in February, and men will be spending their March salary on all things white. Here’s how to make the most of Japan’s V-Day role reversal.

DO: Know The History

The history of Valentine’s Day in Japan dates back to the 1950s. Compared to countries like the United States or the United Kingdom — both of which have been celebrating a form of Valentine’s Day since the mid 1800s — the history of this day in Japan is still pretty short. So why was Valentine’s Day adopted into the country anyway? The start of its popularity can be attributed to two things: a confectionery company that wanted to sell their heart-shaped chocolate on Valentine’s Day, and a Japanese department store that started running a “Valentine’s Sale”.

During this time, they took the opportunity to encourage Japanese women to buy Valentine’s Day gifts for the men in their lives. The shops would also be decorated with pretty displays to further entice more customers. Since it was a confectionery company that was one of the main proponents of the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Japan, chocolate became the main thing that was associated with this day, compared to other related gifts like flowers or jewellery. If you happen to be in Japan on February 14th, you can see that up to this day, there are still plenty of department stores and other shops in Japan that decorate their displays with a variety of red & pink colour schemes and a lot of heart shapes. Restaurants and bakeries in Japan also tend to release their own heart-themed items as a part of the celebration.

DO: Know Your Honmei From Your Giri

Now that you know that chocolates are a big thing during Valentine’s Day in Japan, it might also be interesting to know that there are also different types of chocolates here. Because much like the other gift giving traditions that Japan has, what you give to the other person can carry different meanings.

When giving chocolates to someone else during Valentine’s Day, you have to ask yourself one question before you even start making any plans, and this is: “How do I define my relationship with this person?” There are two main types of chocolates given on Valentine’s Day: honmei-choco and giri-choco. Depending on how you define your relationship with the person you are planning to give to, make sure to specify the type when you give it. Honmei-choco (本命チョコ), taken from the words ‘honmei’ (the favourite) and ‘choco’ (chocolate), are chocolates given to a very special person in your life, such as a boyfriend, husband or close male friend. From time to time, honmei-choco are accompanied by a ‘love confession’, where a woman asks the recipient to be her boyfriend.

Giri-choco (義理チョコ), taken from the words ‘giri’ (obligation) and ‘choco’ (chocolate), are chocolates given to someone without a romantic attachment, such as colleagues, friends or bosses. Depending on how many people are in your work circle, giri-choco can set you back several thousand yen. In recent years, two new types have also been marketed: gyaku-choco (逆チョコ), which means ‘reverse chocolate’, ie. for men to give to women as in the traditional custom, and tomo-choco (友チョコ), which means ‘friend chocolate’.

DON’T: Forget About White Day

If now you’re thinking, ‘Wow, it must suck to be a woman in Japan on Valentine’s Day’ or ‘Wow, I need to move to Japan’, don’t forget that women do get some love too, exactly one month later. White Day takes place on March 14 and was first introduced by a confectionary company in the ’70s, who named it after the colour of sugar and then twisted the meaning by saying white means ‘pure love’.

On White Day, men return the V-Day favour threefold (read: three times the cost) to all the women who gave them gifts on February 14. It can get expensive, fast. As the name suggests, the theme of the day is white, so women often expect white chocolate, white scarves or accessories, and/or silver jewellery. If a Japanese woman gives you a gift, even just giri-choco, don’t forget to get her a little something in return for White Day.

DON’T: Skip Your Colleagues

Although purchasing chocolates for your colleagues might seem weird or creepy at first, you probably won’t be the only one showing up at work with chocolates for your male counterparts. Wait one more month, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by the return gesture on White Day when your male colleagues reciprocate with some white-coloured sweets.


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