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Valentine’s day in Japan

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).

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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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6 Comments

  1. Hi,
    thanks for writing ^^
    In France, usually the couple spend time together and offer presents to each other. Couples often go out to eat dinner together at restaurant, then spend night together. Maybe it looks like Christmas in Japan (not sure). It’s common to see guys offering flowers (red roses usually) to their loved one on this day.

    Even old couples married for a long time celebrate this day.
    It’s a day only for couples, so singles sometimes get depressed on this day, too ^^”

    White day doesn’t exist here because both guys and girls give presents on February 14.

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for commenting! 🙂
    Oh, it seems like Valentine in France is quite different from Valentine’s here. As you said, it really resembles Japanese Christmas – eating together, exchanging presents, spending the night together, all things Japanese usually do on Christmas.
    Aww, red roses. So I guess my image of France isn’t completely wrong if I feel like roses fit the image of France perfectly? :’D In Japan, giving flowers is a bit more unusual, they’re mostly offered only on mother’s day or on very special occasions.

    I totally understand the feelings of those singles getting depressed on Valentine’s, it feels so lonely to watch couples having fun together when you have no one… Especially if your friends are all taken, it’s so lonely.

    Anyways, thank you very much for your interesting comment! 🙂

  3. Wow! Thanks for letting us know. I just read this article and I must say, I like the way you write. Also, I have learned quite a lot new things so I am glad I read this article.

    Here in Austria you usually either spend your Valentine’s day alone if you have no boyfriend or when you are in a relationship, you go out and eat dinner in a restaurant. From what I know, the man mostly buys flowers (roses) for the woman. Or the man gets the woman some necklace or something like that.

    So basically, if you are not in a relationship you are going to feel really lonely and depressed here.

    Though this year I had the idea to make chocolate with a couple of friends and we gifted some to each other and our friends. It was really hard (had some problem with making the chocolate) but really fun!! I am really envious of the way it’s celebrated in Japan! Also, I went to strangers (woman) that looked lonely and gifted them a rose. This year it had been only two women but hey! At least they smiled 😀

  4. Thank you for your kind words! I’ll try to keep the posts coming. 🙂

    Hmm, so Austria’s Valentine’s day kind of resembles France’s Valentine’s that cybermoi told about earlier. I wonder if it’s celebrated the same way pretty much all over Europe…

    Now that you said it, Japan’s Valentine’s really is kind to even those who aren’t in a relationship. If you’re a man, you might get gifts anyway and if you’re a woman, you get a chance to give presents even if you didn’t have a boyfriend. And even if you get rejected on White Day, you still get chocolate – a great deal. 😀

    Wow, gifting roses to strangers, so kind. :’) Making chocolate really is difficult, sometimes the chocolate will just turn into grainy mess with no reason. Maybe I should write about making chocolate sometime too, haha.

  5. In Latin America (I’m from Chile), it’s pretty much the same as the res of the Western world. Men give gifts to women, generally flowers, a stuffed animal, chocolates, or basically any gift really, but flowers seem to be something most men think they absolutely have to give to their partner. In my case, I don’t like receiving something as a gift that I know is going to die, as it makes me sad. So, instead, my wonderful boyfriend gave me a fake, multicolored hard paper rose with a wooden stem.
    Aside from gifts, couple just do what they like to do together on the day, be that going out to eat, making a meal at home and watching a movie they like, or anything else that suits them both.

    I have a question. What would it mean if a woman, along with chocolates, gave homemade cookies to their crush (or the person they loved)? Also, what if it were just homemade cookies?

    Thanks in advance. I really enjoy reading your blog 🙂

  6. Hi Vicky and thank you for your comment!
    It seems like Japan’s system of women giving gifts on Valentine’s really is quite unique. Your boyfriend is so nice for taking your feelings into accord like that, that’s so sweet! 🙂
    Japanese couples seem to love going on dates on Valentine’s as well so I guess that’s something Japan and Chile have in common.

    Giving cookies instead of chocolate is getting popular in Japan as well so I think it would have the same meaning as chocolate. Anything homemade is ranked pretty high on Valentine’s so it would be a perfect choice to give one’s crush on Valentine’s. I hope this answered your question!

    I’m very happy to hear that! 🙂

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