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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogValentine’s Day Japan: Everything You Need to Know!

Valentine’s Day Japan: Everything You Need to Know!

Jen SantelicesJen Santelices
Published Time
Posted on 
January 22, 2021
Modified Time
Updated last 
October 26, 2023
An Asian couple laying on the bed, facing each other, surrounded by hearts.

Valentine’s Day in Japan is very popular! From chocolate to flowers, there’s plenty to enjoy! There are even different types of chocolate depending on who you give them to! But why is it so popular, and what are the key differences between us and Japan on this special day? Let’s find out!

What’s different about Valentine’s Day in Japan?

In the West, Valentine’s Day usually revolves around romantic partners. Sometimes, friends and family get chocolate, but there aren’t many rules or customs surrounding it. This often involves going on dates and giving your partner gifts like flowers, chocolates, or something more personal. Usually, 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 who don’t have somebody to be romantic with. In addition, gift-giving doesn’t have to be mutual in Japan!

A bunch of Valentine's Day in Japan wooden charms written at a shrine.
Some people even wish to find love on Valentine’s Day in Japan! Image via Shutterstock

On February 14th, women give gifts to men, usually some type of chocolate. But on March 14th, men return the favor. This is called “White Day“! While this practice may seem unusual initially, there’s a lot of history behind it!

History of Valentine’s Day in Japan

The history of Valentine’s Day in Japan dates back to the 1950s, much later than the West. This is because many confectioners and department stores started campaigns around that time! Their main demographic was women who wanted to buy chocolate for husbands and boyfriends. The shops would also be decorated with pretty displays to entice more customers.

A couple exchanging a present in the streets on Valentine's Day in Japan.
It took a while for Valentine’s Day in Japan to become popular. Image via Shutterstock

Since confectioners spearheaded Valentine’s campaigns in Japan, chocolate became Japan’s main V-Day symbol, rather than flowers and jewelry! If you happen to be in Japan on February 14th, there are a lot of Valentine’s decorations! Their displays feature red and pink color schemes and a lot of heart shapes. Restaurants and bakeries in Japan also tend to release their own heart-themed items as a part of the celebration.

The Different Types of Chocolates for Valentine’s Day

As mentioned earlier, chocolate isn’t only popular in Japan, but there’s also a subculture of gift-giving surrounding it! Even though it’s generally centered around women giving chocolate to men, they don’t all get the same chocolate!

A box of gourmet chocolates for Valentines Day.
There are plenty of chocolate sales during this time of year! Image via Shutterstock

Valentine’s Day chocolate has different meanings depending on its quality and recipient! So, what do they all mean? Before giving someone chocolate, ask yourself: “How do I feel about them?”

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Honmei-choco

If you answer “I’m in love with them,” they get “honmei choco”! The name translates to “true feelings chocolate.” Therefore, they’re best for someone who romantically means a lot to you!

A piled of milk and white chocolate hearts with sprinkles on top, handmade for Valentine's Day in Japan.
Honmei-choco is for lovers only! Image via Shutterstock

For “honmei choco,” buying expensive chocolates is common to express that your gift is special. However, some women in Japan go the extra mile and even make the chocolate themselves!

Giri-choco

In Japanese culture, they practice giving gifts to people they’re not necessarily related to. These people may be co-workers, acquaintances, or others outside your inner circle. Usually, it’s an omiyage, a souvenir from your most recent vacation.

However, on Valentine’s Day–and in the form of chocolate–people can give “giri choco” (義理チョコ). This translates to “obligation chocolate,” which is not as arduous as it sounds. This is done out of respect for your relationship, no matter how loose your ties may be!

Piles and piles of milk chocolate KitKats. This is usually the type of giri-choco that people give each on Valentine's Day in Japan.
Kit-Kats are for everyone. Image via Shutterstock

For “giri choco,” buying chocolate you might commonly find in convenience stores like Kit-Kats is perfectly fine. Since the giri-choco isn’t expensive, it’ll be easier for them to return the favor on White Day.

Tomo-choco

Finally, there’s “tomo choco” (友チョコ)! It comes from the first part of the word for “friend” in Japanese — 友達 reads as “tomodachi.” Women give their male friends some chocolate, and men return the favor to their female friends on White Day!

A woman handing chocolate to someone off screen, facing the camera. This is happening on Valentine's Day in Japan.
Friends get chocolate on Valentine’s Day as well! Image via Shutterstock

For “tomo choco,” the price and personalization depend on how close you are to your friend. Since this is a relatively new chocolate category, feel free to get creative! Now you’re ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day like Japanese people do! Have you ever celebrated in this way before? What kind of chocolate did you give? What do you want to get on White Day? Let us know in the comments below!

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Author avatar
Jen Santelices

5 Responses

amelia hignell says
September 06, 2022, 9:43 AM

i dont understand this? what activity’s do they do?

Reply
Thalia Harris says
December 13, 2022, 12:16 PM

Can you please be more specific?

Reply
Ted Humphreys says
January 30, 2023, 2:35 AM

They celebrate by going out and enjoying their relationship together. Very similar to western culture. Chocolates, flowers “roses” especially.

Reply
Zara says
February 26, 2023, 8:44 AM

this is so nice, i would look forward to this if i was from there

Reply
Terence Park says
February 07, 2024, 9:13 PM

Yeah – I picked up on Valentine’s Day and White Day watching anime. It’s great to have a commentary on what it means in one place. I’m guessing if I get a Japanese girlfriend there’s gonna be a King-Kong xx Godzilla Choco face-off!!!
May the best chocolate win!
(Thx btw for this)

Reply

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