Poppy has been living in Japan for over six years. She likes to read novels, write, and play video games.
Japanese Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day, the 14th of February, is celebrated in many countries as the most romantic day of the year. It's the day for dates, first kisses, and romantic outings for couples. Valentine's Day is said to originate in Roman times when a festival was held to celebrate the coming of spring. It was named after St. Valentine, a Roman Catholic priest from the third century.
In Japan, Valentine's Day is slightly different. Women treat the men in their lives to chocolates, and not only the men they're romantically interested in. Thanks to a successful marketing campaign, this time of year is now one of the highest in the year in chocolate and sweet sales.
Types of Japanese Chocolates
- Giri-Choco or "obligation chocolates" are generally cheaper kinds and are given to coworkers and male acquaintances. They're more of an "it's Valentine's Day and it's tradition so here you go" gesture and is in no way considered romantic. It's usually a small box with just a few sweets in it, cheaper ones that are easy to buy in bulk.
- Tomo-Choco are for other women and male friends in your lives! Although Valentine's Day in Japan is a day for men, women can exchange chocolates on this day as well. "Tomo" means "friend" and again, there's no romantic implication in these. Tomo-choco tells the person you're thinking of them on Valentine's Day and they care about you in a platonic way.
- Honmei-Choco (literally meaning "true feelings chocolate") is given to a romantic partner or love interest. these are typically much higher in price, or sometimes even handmade. The idea is that you confess your love with Honmei-Choco! A delicately handmade box of chocolates is a great way to show your feelings to the person you care about.
Valentine's Day Themed Goods in Japan
From the end of January until the end of February, you can find plenty of Valentine (hence, chocolate) themed goodies in various cafés, restaurants, and shops. Starbucks, for example, had a triple chocolate drink in 2022. Eggs n Things, a popular restaurant chain from Hawaii, offers a "melting fondant chocolate pancake" dish. Kipposhi in Tokyo even offers chocolate-flavored ramen!
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Many other places in Japan whip out their Valentine-themed recipes for this time of year, so it's a great place to be if you love chocolate! Everywhere you go, you can find some kind of Valentine's Day themed snack or beverage.
Japanese White Day
Does it seem unfair that Valentine's Day is all about men while women have to do all the buying and giving? Not to worry, because men are expected to return the favour exactly one month later, on White Day.
Women who give out chocolates are making a sort of investment because, on the 14th March, men are expected to pay it all back! A woman who painstakingly made or bought chocolates for her colleagues, friends, and boyfriend or husband gets to enjoy receiving gifts back a month later.
These gifts don't always have to be chocolate. White Day gifts can be anything, usually white in color, from marshmallows and cookies to bags, perfume, and even lingerie. Gifts don't have to be white, but it's a nice touch.
Is Valentine's Day A Dying Tradition?
Valentine's Day and White Day seem to be dwindling despite all this. The coronavirus pandemic meant fewer and fewer people were giving out giri-choco as they worked from home. Some companies have banned giri-choco completely, perhaps to take off the pressures of having to return the favor on White Day and distract them from their work.
However, Japanese chocolate and confectionary shops always push sales of fancy chocolates around this time of year and count on it for a nice boost in sales. Besides, everyone loves chocolates and sweets, so it's unlikely this tradition will die out anytime soon, even if it does become less popular.
So if you're in Japan during Valentine's Day or White Day, be sure to gift and exchange chocolates as well as trying out all the delicious, ambitious, and sometimes crazy chocolate-themed dishes that the locals go crazy for at this time of year!
© 2022 Poppy