What Valentine's Day is Like in Japan and the Customs that Make it Unique
Valentine's Day is a day when you celebrate love and often give someone a nice gift. In Western countries both men and women participate in this event. Guys everywhere go into a tizzy before Valentine’s Day. It can be hard to pick out just the right gift, or plan the perfect date. In Japan things are a bit different though. Japan is a relatively new player in the Valentine’s game, but they've managed to come up with their own style of celebrating Valentine's Day.
First off, women are the usually ones who have to give gifts at first on Valentine's Day, which can be stressful! But don't worry ladies, on March 14th, you will receive the same type of gifts back from the guys. Some call this "White Day" where men return the favor to women. Here are some additional differences.
How it Started
Valentine's Day became popular in Japan in the 1950s. The candy company that first introduced heart-shaped chocolates and the department store that hosted a Valentine's Sale helped cement Valentine's Day as a part of Japanese culture. This idea was soon followed by other department stores across the country, and continues to this day all over Japan. Women were the target market for these chocolates as they would buy them for the men in their lives. They would put them on display at elegant stores, and then popularity grew continuously over time.
How it’s Going
Valentine’s Day chocolate is more popular than ever! Traditional displays are starting to get replaced by more elaborate ones. They have lots of different flavours and styles on offer. I have personally seen chocolates with dried fruits incorporated, some that look like planets and all sorts of unique designs and chocolate trends each year. Bundles of chocolates often come with beautiful packaging and stores like to give them a personal touch by wrapping them up beautifully too. Spending more will likely get you fancier packages and better chocolate, but there's plenty of variety to suit all budgets.
The Personal Touch for Japanese Valentine’s Chocolate
It's not always easy to buy chocolate for Valentine’s day -- though most people do it at a store. But homemade chocolates are also a very popular option and some might argue that they’re even more personal for both relationships and friends.
In February, Japanese supermarkets and stores tend to sell a lot of ingredients and equipment aimed for Valentine’s Day such as colorful sprinkles, powdered sugar or chocolate hearts. Special boxes and wrapping papers are also common.
Chocolates are usually the gift of choice when you want to show someone that you care for. Along with chocolates, there are other types of gifts that might be appropriate in certain situations. For example, a shirt, tie or watch can be given. The main criteria is that the gift needs to have some personal relevance in order for it to be an appropriate choice.
Who Get’s Valentine’s Chocolate?
One other thing to note about Valentine’s day in Japan is that ladies don't just give chocolate to the guys they are sweet on. You’ll find women making and giving chocolates to coworkers, family members, friends or school mates. Much like when you were in elementary school giving chocolates to classmates, it’s not only about dating relationships.
However, not all chocolate is the same. The type of chocolate given on Valentine’s Day depends on the relationship. Japanese have different words to describe the types of Valentine’s Day chocolates given for Valentine's Day, depending on the relationship
”Giri Choco” - 義理チョコ
Giri choco are “obligation chocolates”-- typically inexpensive, and not at all romantic. You might give these to acquaintances, family members, or co-workers too.
”Honmei Choco” - 本命チョコ
A common belief is that honmei choco are meant to be given to a romantic partner, which essentially puts them in the same category as love chocolates. Women often take the time to choose chocolate specifically for themselves. Honmei choco is typically higher quality, prettier and more expensive - perfect for celebrating a special occasion. This is also likely the category of homemade chocolate. The most effort being put in to show how much you care about the person is usually put in when they make it themselves.
”Tomo Choco” - 友チョコ
Tomo Choco is short for Tomodachi Chocolate meaning “friend chocolate”. Not everyone celebrates Valentine's Day or "White Day" in Japan. But singles never fear! Women often buy chocolates for their female friends in Japan on Feb. 14th (or at any time of year!), which is known as "tomochoco".
The Tradition of “White Day” and How It Differs from Valentines
White Day is a day that celebrates the love and affection that men express to women. It is usually celebrated on March 14th in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China. The tradition of White Day may have originated from the Japanese custom of giving white chrysanthemums on November 11th, which was originally a celebration for men who had died in wars.
White Day is celebrated by exchanging gifts between lovers. The most common gifts are sweets or cakes, but it can also be clothing items or jewelry. In some cases, people will exchange things they have made themselves such as handmade cards or crafts.
Where To Find The Best Valentine Gifts In Japan
Valentine's Day is a day of love, so it's important to get the perfect gift for your loved one. For those who are looking for the best Valentine gifts in Japan, you’re in luck. Japan has no shortage of specialty cake, chocolate, flower or other specialty shops that are perfect for a valentines gift.
Depending on your relationship with the person you are giving your valentines gift to, it may be something you want to make for yourself. In this case you may only need a trip to a grocery store and some time in the kitchen, or a local craft store and some time making it at home.
Do I Need to Worry About Japanese Valentine’s if I’m a Guy?
Maybe not, but, although the holiday is typically celebrated by women giving gifts to guys, it is never a bad idea to prepare something. Every relationship is different, but preparing your own chocolates, flowers, small gift or a dinner could go a long way to show your appreciation for any Valentine’s gift your girlfriend may have prepared for you.