Valentine’s Day in Japan

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in two stages. The first one, on February 14, where women buy chocolates for the men in their surroundings. These chocolates can have various objectives and meanings: some of them are used to confess one’s love (本命チョコ, honmei-choko) while others (義理チョコ, giri-choko) are kind of an obligation and most of the time offered in a professional setting. One month later, on March 14, comes the White Day, where men who have received chocolates need to buy a present for those who got them chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

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Valentine’s Day in Japan: women give to men

The concept of Valentine’s Day began to surface in Japan towards the end of the 1950s. But it’s only in the late 70s that it really became popular. You might have heard about it but Japan has a very specific tradition on that day. Women give chocolates to the men they are close with but not any kind of chocolate: depending on the relationship between them, the chocolates given will differ. The most common ones are giri-choko and honmei-choko.

Giri-choko: chocolates of duty

Giri-choko (義理チョコ) are chocolates of “obligation” that are given to a colleague, a manager or a friend, for example. Even though their name directly translates as “obligatory chocolates”, they are not supposed to be one and are here to signify gratitude, though they bear a sense of duty within them. They are usually bought in a shop and have no romantic connotations, unlike honmei-choko.

Honmei-choko: chocolates to confess feelings

Honmei-choko (本命チョコ) can be translated by “true feeling chocolate”. They are used to confess (or reiterate) one’s love and are usually homemade. They are a chance for women to make their confession to the one they love. The level of efforts put into the making of the “honmei” chocolate should be equivalent to the feelings a woman has for the one she loves.

Other kinds of “choko” or chocolates

Giri-choko and honmei-choko may be the two most important kinds of chocolates given on Valentine’s Day in Japan, but it doesn’t end here. Over the past years, new trends have appeared, allowing new kinds of chocolates given on lovers’ day to emerge. Among them, there is tomo-choko (友チョコ) given in between friends (therefore, it can be given to women as well). There is also jibun-choko (自分チョコ), which is more and more popular: “jibun” means “self”, thus, it’s a chocolate bought as a self-present. But there’s also papa-choko (パパチョコ) given to fathers by their daughters, or sewa-choko (世話チョコ) which are chocolates given out of mere gratitude (unlike “giri-choko”, which bear within them a sense of obligation). Last but not least, there is gyaku-choko (逆チョコ). “Gyaku” means “reverse” and it’s a type of chocolates that men give to women on February 14. However, it remains quite rare although often mentioned.

La st-valentin au Japon

White Day: men give back

Sure, February 14 is important but March 14 can be even more crucial for some. It’s the “White Day” where men who got chocolates for Valentine’s Day are supposed to repay the favor that was made to them. The trick, however, is that the present they have to give in return is supposed to be two to three times more expensive than the original one. For that very reason, some men end up refusing some chocolates because they are not (financially) capable of returning the offering.

Where did the Japanese Valentine’s Day come from?

Though the origins of the Japanese Valentine’s Day remain quite obscure, the tradition of buying and giving chocolates on that day may have come from a misrepresentation of the way of celebrating Valentine’s Day in the West. Then, this misrepresentation would have spread through ads made by chocolate makers who saw an opportunity to increase their profits. Since then, this custom has dominated in Japan and it’s unlikely to see it vanish away any time soon.

Valentine’s Day in SNG

You too, get the chance to experience Valentine’s Day the Japanese way! Join SNG for a three-month course from January to April or for one of our long courses for one or two years, so you can be here for February 14. Our students never miss a chance to celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Japanese customs, so why not come and try it yourself!