Think you know all about Valentine’s Day? You might be surprised to hear that in Japan, women are expected to give chocolates to the men in their lives, the exact opposite of how it's celebrated in the rest of the world!
The unique Japanese traditions of Valentine's Day began when department stores in Japan introduced the holiday to their main customer base, women, and encouraged them to buy chocolates for the men in their lives. Because confessions of love (kokuhaku (告白) are rare in Japanese culture where excessive displays of emotion are not encouraged, chocolate manufacturers saw this as a prime opportunity to normalize declarations of love, using the medium of chocolate!
So, February 14 has become a day where it's acceptable, even encouraged, for Japanese women to take a risk and confess romantic feelings they may have, along with their chocolate gift! Chocolate manufacturers have profited off this trend, with an estimated quarter of annual profits for Japanese chocolate companies coming from February sales. While being a highly commercial holiday, Valentine's Day in Japan has influenced traditional female and male interactions in Japan.
For their special someone, women commonly gift handmade chocolate, or department store chocolates for Valentine’s Day, which means stores begin selling chocolate making kits at the start of January, as well as lavishly decorated and packaged chocolate. These special chocolates, made or purchased with love, and given to husbands, boyfriends, partners are called ‘Honmei Choco’.
As if that's not enough, there is a second type of chocolates given to friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends called ‘Giri Choco’, obligation or courtesy chocolate- no feelings or strings attached! Giri Choco are generally cheaper chocolates that you can purchase in department, grocery or convenience stores. In recent years, some companies have actually banned the tradition of Giri Choco for the stress and also misinterpreted signals that can result in the workplace!
Thinking that this all sounds like an unfair burden on women? Well, the consolation is that exactly one month later on the 14th of March, men reciprocate with gifts (usually of white chocolate) for women, which they return threefold if they are a romantic partner on the holiday called ‘White Day’.
In a recent trend, ‘Jibun Choco’, chocolates for yourself, have also gained popularity, a great reminder that the most important kind of love, is "self love". Don’t forget to spoil yourself with some delicious chocolate treats this Valentine’s Day!