Unique Celebration of Valentine's Day in Japan

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by Albert

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Whatever it is that made you want to know about Valentine's Day in Japan - perhaps you have always been curious, or maybe you'd like a left-field choice of trip with your loved one - you've definitely come to the right place. Before you start looking for flights to Japan, or planning an entire itinerary, read up: here's a brief guide on everything you need to know about Valentine's Day in Japan!

Japan has unique ways of celebrating Valentine's Day

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Origin of Valentine's Day in Japan

Looking at how big of a holiday it has become today, it's hard to imagine that 70 or so years ago, there was no such thing as Valentine's Day in Japan. Like many festivities of Western origin, Valentine's Day in Japan is a more recent addition to the country's list of popular holidays.

According to popular beliefs, the holiday was introduced to the country for the first time in 1936 by - perhaps unsurprisingly - a confectionery company. The foreign concept targeted only the expats living in the country at the time. It was not until the early 1950s that the company even started selling heart-shaped chocolates for the occasion. It did not take long after that the other local chocolatiers followed suit, and thus gave birth to the Valentine's Day in Japan.

Now that we know about the history - let's find more about Valentine's Day in Japan, and why you should visit…

Valentine's Day in Japan: Understanding Kokuhaku

It has become a common trope in the west: men crowding florists and jewelry or chocolate shops, desperately looking for Valentine's Day gifts for their loved ones. Valentine's Day in Japan, however, is a different scenario…

In Japan it is often women who are lining up for heart-shaped chocolates to give to the significant males in their lives.

Why this happens on Valentine's Day in Japan is largely unclear, although popular beliefs blame it on a case of miscommunication. Allegedly, the original attempts at marketing Valentine's Day in Japan have been mistakenly translated and unwittingly switched the traditional Valentine's Day gift-giving burden.

But Valentine's Day in Japan becoming the holiday that it is today has created changes in the country's cultural landscape. The occasion gave way for women to confess their romantic feelings - or kokuhaku in the local language - without fear of judgment. And while there is an array of romantic things to do in Japan, one activity reigns supreme as the top activity for Valentine's Day in Japan: the giving of chocolates.

Valentine's Day in Japan: The Chocolates Do the Talking

Heart-shaped chocolates are the undefeated king of Valentine's Day gifts in Japan.

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Like in most every Valentine's Day-celebrating country in the world, chocolates take center stage in Japan. But Japan has put its own unique spin on Valentine's Day chocolates in that, different types of chocolates can mean different things and are therefore given based on the giver's relationship with the receiver.

Traditionally, there are two types of Valentine's Day chocolates that Japanese women give out: there's the romantically-charged honmei-choco, and the giri-choco.

Honmei-choco is known as either "true feelings" or "favorite" chocolate, and is the kind that is reserved for people for whom the giver has romantic feelings. The honmei-choco is, therefore, given to husbands and/or boyfriends. Or, in the case of the risk-taking kokuhaku confessor, the crush - accompanied, of course, by a romantic confession. A lot of care and preparation go into giving the honmei-choco, with many women opting to make their own confections by hand to symbolize the giver's true feelings for its intended receiver. That is why homemade chocolate kits are just as easy to find and buy as regular heart-shaped chocolates on Valentine's Day in Japan.

Giri-choco, on the other hand, is known as "obligatory chocolates", and that pretty much sums up the meaning of the chocolates. These more generic, expectedly less-expensive chocolates are given to male friends, classmates, and workmates and are not meant to be taken as a romantic gesture.

In the last couple of years, however, a cultural shift has taken place and new types of Valentine's Day chocolates have sprung into existence. For instance, more and more women give out tomo-choco, aka the "friend chocolate". These are the chocolates that Japanese women give out to and enjoy with their female friends. Tomo-choco is, essentially, the Japanese equivalent of Valentine's Day in the West.

A growing number of women in Japan have also put a new take on Valentine's Day and the whole chocolate-giving business. Instead of slaving away on handmade honmei-choco and spending thousands of yen on giri-choco for men they have no romantic feelings for, they made the switch to jibun-choco, otherwise known as the "self chocolate". And as its name suggests, this is the chocolate that women give themselves in honor of Valentine's Day and self-love.

Japanese girls and women also give each other "friendship chocolates" on Valentine's Day.

(Source: S. Tsuchiya/Unsplash)

Valentine's Day in Japan: Role Reversal, One Month Later

 White Day is celebrated exactly one month after Valentine's Day in Japan.

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On March 14, exactly a month after Valentine's Day, Japanese men return the favor on a day known as "White Day". According to stories, White Day was created some time in the 70s after many women expressed exhaustion over the heavy - not to mention, costly - burden of Valentine's Day gifting.

As expected, White Day celebrations and gift-giving centers around chocolates! Men who have received honmei-choco on Valentine's Day are expected to give what is known as the gyaku-choco, which translates to "reverse chocolates". These return gifts are expected to be twice or thrice more expensive than the chocolates that they have received the month before. While practically unheard of in the West, White Day is just as popular as Valentine's Day in Japan. In fact, its popularity has spread throughout many other parts of Asia, including in Taiwan, South Korea, and China.

Valentine's Day in Japan sure is a unique occasion! Which of these are you most interested in?

FAQs about Valentine's Day in Japan

  • How does Japan celebrate Valentine's Day?

    Valentine's Day in Japan is celebrated by women giving gifts of chocolate to the men in their lives. Romantic partners or interests receive special chocolates known as honmei-choco, while male friends and colleagues or classmates receive obligatory giri-choco.

  • What is Valentine's Day in Japanese?

    Valentine's Day is known in Japanese is Barentain dē.

  • What is the difference between Valentine's Day and White Day in Japan?

    Valentine's Day in Japan is celebrated with women handing out gifts of chocolate to men. White Day, on the other hand, is celebrated exactly one month later, with men reciprocating the chocolate gifts they had received on Valentine's Day.

  • What do the Japanese eat on Valentine's Day?

    In general, chocolates are given and consumed on Valentine's Day.

  • What is a common Valentine's Day gift in Japan?

    Chocolate hearts, either bought or homemade, are the most popular Valentine's Day gifts in Japan.

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Valentine's Day in Japan