Everything You Need To Know About Valentine’s Day in Japan

21 January 2021 by Jen

What’s not to love about Valentine’s Day?

It’s a day for a special kind of celebration and a day when people bring out all sorts of gifts and sweet gestures towards another person. And when you think about it, this day is basically a good chance for you to prove that you can show appreciation for someone who is special to you.

In Japan Valentine’s Day is also celebrated, but it’s celebrated in a way that might be quite different from what you’re used to. Even if you’ve never celebrated it in Japan, in this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know by taking a closer look at the unique way that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Japanese culture.

Difference between Valentine’s Day in Japan vs the West

The Japanese celebrate valentine's day in Japan in a unique way

In more Western countries, the way that Valentine’s Day is celebrated means that the activities all revolve around your romantic partner, whether it’s someone you’re dating or someone you’re already married to. This often involves going on dates and giving your partner gifts like flowers, chocolates, or something more personal. Usually, the gift giving is done by both partners — meaning they both receive and give out a gift.

However, Valentine’s Day in Japan isn’t exclusively for your romantic partner. This can be good news for those of us out there who don’t exactly have somebody to be romantic with. Another thing that Japan does differently compared to Western countries is that in Japan, the gift giving isn’t mutual, at least not during the same day. Basically, what happens is that on February 14th, women give gifts to men, the most common of which is some type of chocolate. There are even different types of chocolates that all depends on who you’ll be giving it to, which we’ll discuss a little later in this article.

This then connects to a different celebration that takes place exactly one month later on March 14th. This is a day called “White Day”, and every White Day, men reciprocate the gifts that they received from women. While this way of celebrating might seem unusual, it can still be really fun for men and women interacting with each other once a year. If we explore why Japan does things this way, we can see that there’s some history behind it, which we’ll talk about below.

History of Valentine’s Day in Japan

A variety of Japanese chocolates for valentine's day

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 jewelry. 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 color schemes and a lot of heart shapes. Restaurants and bakeries in Japan also tends to release their own heart-themed items as a part of the celebration.

The different types of chocolates for Valentine’s Day

Japanese Valentine's Day chocolates

Now that you know that chocolates are a big thing during Valentine’s Day in Japan, it might also 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?”

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If your answer to this question is, “this person is my romantic partner or someone I haveromantic feelings for”, then the chocolate that you need to give to them falls under the “honmei choco” (本命チョコ) category. The name means “true feelings chocolate”, and so as you can imagine, this category is reserved for someone who means a lot to you romantically. For “honmei choco”, it’s very common to buy chocolates that can lean a bit to the expensive side to express that your gift is special. However, some women in Japan also take the time to make the chocolate themselves, or add some decoration to it to make it more personalized. In Japanese culture, there is a deeply-rooted tradition of giving gifts even to people you might not consider too close to you but you feel like you are obligated to them, so these gifts are a way of showing that you are polite. These might be people like your boss, co-workers, acquaintances, or other people you interact with but don’t necessarily consider to be a close friend. Appropriately enough, the name for the type of chocolate that you give to them is “giri choco” (義理チョコ), which translates to “obligation chocolates”.

For “giri choco”, it’s perfectly fine to buy chocolate you might commonly find in convenience stores or grocery stores. The idea is that by giving them something that isn’t too expensive, it won’t make it too difficult for them to return the favor during White Day. Last is the “tomo choco” (友チョコ). It comes from the first part of the word for “friend” in Japanese — 友達, read as “tomodachi”. Women give their male friends some chocolate during Valentine’s Day, and on White Day men then give chocolates to their female friends as well. For “tomo choco”, the price, as well as whether you want to personalize it to their flavor preferences or not will depend on how close you are with your friend, so we recommend thinking about this as well.

All of the details and meanings behind Valentine’s Day in Japan might seem a little confusing at first, but we hope that this article helped clear things up. Now you’re ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day the way that Japanese people do!


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