Valentine’s day in Japan is quite different than Valentine’s in most other countries.

In Japan, the ones giving gifts on Valentine’s are women – not men as traditionally in many other countries. Women are supposed to give chocolate not only to the their crushes but also to their male friends, male co-workers, casual acquaintances and in some cases, even to their family. This tradition is surprisingly alive even today and you will see supermarkets and shopping malls filling with chocolate when February 14th is approaching. Expensive brands like Godiva even set up temporary chocolate selling stalls near railway stations to make sure that every woman in the country can easily buy their chocolate (and of course, also to boost their sales).

Extremely delicious, luxurious and expensive Godiva truffles

Chocolate given on Valentine’s day can be separated to giri choco and honmei choco, latter meaning the chocolate you give to the man you really love or have a crush on, former meaning the chocolate you give to those you have no romantic attachment for. Actually, the word giri literally translates to obligation, so basically giri choco is chocolate you have an obligation to give – it’s not like you really want to give it.

This obligation chocolate and the honmei chocolate, chocolate given to someone you have romantic feelings for, don’t differ only in name. Chocolate given to co-workers or casual acquittances is usually rather inexpensive and mostly store-bought. Honmei chocolate in the other hand is often more expensive, carefully selected high-quality chocolate OR alternatively home-made. There are many Japanese girls the best way to confess your feelings to your crush is to give him chocolate you have made with your own hands – even if this means you only melted some store-bought chocolate in the microwave, mixed in some cream and poured it in the heart-shaped mold. Chocolate cake made with cake mix is perfectly appropriate as well.

If you know some Japanese, you might find it funny how the pronunciation of “home-made” resembles the pronunciation of “honmei”. In this case, you should definitely watch this au commercial.

Handmade Valentine's Chocolate - definitely 本命 (honmei)!

For me, the most obscure thing in the Japanese Valentine’s tradition is the White Day. White Day is celebrated in March 14th, one month after Valentine’s day. This day is when the Valentine’s day’s efforts will pay off: on this day, men are expected to give gifts to all women they get chocolate gifts from on Valentine’s. On top of that, it’s often thought that the gift should be three times as expensive as the gift originally received in Valentine’s. You might have enjoyed those Godiva truffles on Valentine’s but when the White day approaches, many wish they would have received ordinary convenience store chocolate.

There are some rules on White Day return gifts as well. For example, returning the chocolate of the same brand received on Valentine’s has a hidden meaning that the gift was unnecessary to begin with. It conveys the message: “I didn’t need your present so I’m returning it”. The type of sweets also matters. White chocolate conveys that you only have friendly feelings for the girl and is one way to reject a love confession. Cookies, in the other hand, are often taken as a love confession. If you’re a man and ever have a chance to live in Japan, please do your research before White Day – you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, even if you did it unknowingly.

There are many other rules and customs too but let’s end it here today. Is there anyone here who has experienced Japanese Valentine’s Day or White Day? I’d also love to hear how Valentine’s is celebrated in your home country so in case you have some time, please share it in the comments. (:

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