Valentine’s Day is known as the day when one expresses their love to that one special person. In Western countries it is common for both men and women to participate in a gift exchange. Often, the approaching date of February 14th causes men across the world to scramble, trying to pick out a gift, or plan the perfect date. However, in Japan, Valentine’s Day plays out a bit differently. For starters, the roles are actually reversed and it is women who bear the pressure of giving gifts. The favor is then returned exactly one month later on March 14th on a day known as White Day, when men are encouraged to give gifts back to the women who treated them on Valentine’s Day. The differences do not end there. Despite being a relatively new event in the country, Japan has its very own Valentine’s Day customs and traditions.
Past and Present – A Day of Chocolate
Valentine’s Day became popular in Japan in the 1950s, due in part to a few notable business campaigns, particularly, a confectionary that began selling heart-shaped chocolates during the season, and a large department store that ran a “Valentine's Sale,” an idea that was followed by other department stores, and continues to this day. Their target customers were women, who were encouraged to buy beautiful and delicious chocolates for the men in their lives. The department store displays were elegant, and the popularity continued to grow throughout the years.
These days, Valentine’s chocolates are more popular than they have ever been! Store displays have become increasingly elaborate, offering various tastes and styles of chocolate. The packaging is often just as exquisite as the chocolates themselves, and most department stores will offer gift wrapping services to make the chocolate gifts even more special. Prices range from modest to quite expensive.
Not all the chocolate given on Valentine’s Day in Japan is from a store, however. Homemade chocolates are also a popular, and some would say more personal, sweet to give to loved ones. In February, Japanese shops feature many ingredients and supplies specifically for Valentine’s Day, including colorful sprinkles, confectioner’s sugar, heart-shaped candy molds, as well as special boxes and wrapping materials. While chocolates, whether bought or homemade, are usually the gift of choice, other gifts may also be given. Other acceptable gifts include shirts, watches, or anything that can be useful.
Types of Valentine’s Chocolate
Another thing to note about Valentine’s Day in Japan is that women not only give chocolate to men for whom they have romantic feelings, but also male family members, and even coworkers. However, not all chocolate is considered equal, and the type of chocolate given depends on the relationship. The Japanese have different words to describe the types of Valentine’s Day chocolates given on Valentine’s Day.
Giri choco are known as the “obligation chocolates” that are doled out to workmates, family members, and acquaintances. Typically, this type of chocolate is relatively cheaper, and the present is in no way considered a romantic gesture.
Honmei choco are meant to be given to a romantic partner, or a person for whom a woman has romantic feelings. In other words, honmei choco are love chocolates! Women often take great care to select honmei choco, which is typically, higher quality, more aesthetically appealing, and as such, higher in price.
Not everyone celebrates romance on Valentine’s Day and White Day. However, singletons need not despair! It is quite popular for women to give chocolates to their female friends as well. This is known as tomo choco.
White Day: Japan’s Valentine’s Day Sister Holiday
Exactly one month later on March 14th, Japan celebrates what is known as “White Day.” This is where the recipients of Valentine's Day chocolates are expected to return the favor. Many women look forward to this day where men are encouraged to show their feelings through gift giving.
Whether someone is madly in love, wants to express feelings of friendship, or simply has a sweet tooth, the Japanese holidays of love have something for just about everyone!
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