Updated: Jan 26
Did you know they celebrate Valentine’s Day in Japan? Valentine’s Day traditions began in Japan during the 1950s, and grew in popularity largely due to the efforts of clever marketing campaigns by chocolate companies. However, despite its corporate beginnings, a completely unique set of traditions has sprung up in Japan surrounding the holiday.
Valentine’s Day in Japan is celebrated as a day where women specifically, give gifts of chocolate to the men in their lives. At the time when Valentine’s Day celebrations started, it was considered taboo for women to confess their feelings towards men. Valentine’s Day gave women a socially accepted method to tell the men they cared for exactly how they felt. This, in turn, affected the way that men and women interacted with each other in Japanese culture.
On Valentine’s Day, women will gift giri-choco, which roughly translates to “obligation chocolate” to their friends, co-workers, family members, bosses, or any other men that they are not romantically connected to. Though giri translates to obligation, conceptually giri-choco is more about showing appreciation or gratitude for the people it is given to. For their partners, the gift of honmei-choco (or true-feelings chocolate) is given. Homemade honmei-choco is even more special, and many women will take it upon themselves to craft it from scratch. Women will also buy tomo-choco (friendship chocolate) to share with each other. Tomo-choco often comes in ornately decorated boxes, and is a way for women to thank one another for their friendship throughout the year.
As an answer to the traditions of women gifting to men on Valentine’s Day, a companion holiday called White Day has cropped up in Japan. White Day takes place on March 14th, exactly one month after Valentine’s day and is the time when men return the favor to women, but threefold! On White Day, men give generous gifts to the women in their lives, traditionally three times the value of what they received on Valentine’s Day. Popular gifts for White Day include cookies, white chocolate, jewelry and marshmallows. Between the two holidays, men and women in Japan both have the opportunity to share their love and appreciation with one another.