Valentine's Day in Japan

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Valentine's Day in Japan
-Melissa Villeneuve

Similar to Western Valentine’s Day traditions, the people of Japan have a gift-giving custom between loved ones to celebrate this romantic holiday. But it comes with a twist.

On Valentine’s Day in Japan, traditionally only the women will give chocolates to the men in their lives. The type of chocolate given corresponds with the kind of relationship they have with the recipient. For example, “giri choco,” or “obligation chocolate,” is intended as a gift of gratitude, and is given to male friends, family, or work colleagues. Giri-choco is inexpensive chocolate and is given as a sign of appreciation and respect. Something a little more special is in store for a significant other. “Honmei-choco” or “true feeling chocolate” is given to a boyfriend, husband, or lover, and are often handmade for a personal touch. This chocolate is usually higher quality and more expensive than giri-choco. “Tomo-choco” or “friend chocolate” are given between female friends and are typically an expensive and elaborate treat to enjoy away from the men. And if the ladies wish to gift themselves a special treat, they buy themselves “jibun-choco.” A more uncommon gift on Valentine’s Day is “Gyaku-choco” which means “reverse chocolate” and is given from a man to a woman. It is considered unusual as the men are traditionally expected to wait to return the favour.

One month later, on March 14, it’s the men’s turn to reciprocate by gifting the women in return. This day is called White Day and is marked by the men gifting something white to the women in their lives, such as marshmallows, white-coloured sweets, or even expensive pearl jewelry or scarves. A candy company in Japan called Ishimura Manseido claims to have invented White Day around 40 years ago. Capitalizing on the popularity of Valentine’s Day and Japan’s long-standing cultural practice of gift-giving and showing thanks, Ishimura Manseido began encouraging men to thank the women with chocolate-filled marshmallow treats.

What began as a custom between lovers has extended today to include friends, family members, and even work colleagues. White Day presents as an opportunity to practice “okaeshi,” which essentially means giving a gift as thanks for receiving a gift. If a man doesn’t reciprocate the gift, it is considered a disdainful rejection.

Recently, some in Japan have been pushing back against this Valentine’s tradition, due to the pressure to spend lots of yen to avoid offending anyone. Some companies in Japan have banned the practice to avoid any potential issues. In the past decade, it’s become more common for Japanese women to only give “tomo-choco,” or friend chocolate amongst family and peers or homemade “honmei-choco” to a significant other. More men are also choosing to forego the White Day gifts and present “gyaku-choco” or “reverse chocolate” on Valentine’s Day instead.

Posted on:
Friday, February 11, 2022