Like most countries around the globe, Japan too follows the tradition of Valentine’s Day. However, they do it a little differently than a Westerner might expect. The good news is that it involves a lot of chocolate!
Valentine’s Day In Japan
When Valentine’s Day rolls around in the West, it’s typical for a guy to summon all his romantic sentiments and channel them in to that one day. A lady might expect to be showered with gifts of flowers, chocolates, a romantic dinner, or perhaps even a weekend away.
Not in Japan. Here, it is the women who do the gifting on the 14th of February. But Valentine’s Day chocolate isn’t just reserved for a boyfriend or husband, or even a guy she might be in to. There’s also the guys at work to consider…
The Two Types Of Chocolate
It may sound a little strange to gift co-workers on Valentine’s Day, but this is a tradition which requires the distinction between two types of chocolate gifting; “Giri-choco” (obligation chocolate) and “honmei-choco”.
As the translation “obligation chocolate” already told us, giri-choco is not about romance. The recipients of this chocolate might be work colleagues, the boss, close male friends, and other men in a lady’s life.
Honmei-choco makes a little more sense to the outsider. This is often self-made and a show of love from a woman to her boyfriend or husband, or perhaps even a subtle hint to that guy.
Before we start feeling a bit bad for all the ladies, worrying that they’re doing all the giving and receiving little in return, we should mention White Day.
Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, on March 14, it’s now the man’s turn to gift the lady. Men who received either giri-choco or honmei-choco a month earlier, are now expected to return the gesture by giving gifts such as white chocolate, jewelry, cookies, or even white-colored lingerie, to the ladies, and often to the rule of “sanbai gaeshi” or “triple the return”.
Roaming the streets of Japan in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, you’ll almost certainly notice all the chocolate in the stores. It’s definitely big business.
An association between Valentine’s Day and chocolate was first made in 1936, when Kobe confectionery company Morozoff ran an advertisement in an English-speaking newspaper suggesting chocolate as the perfect gift for a Valentine.
With that seed planted, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that the idea truly started to grow among Japanese people. Department stores seized the opportunity in the late 1950s and the tradition gained momentum.
Answer Love on White Day
While the cynic might argue the origins of White Day lie solely in the hands of commercialization, if the seed takes root and people enjoy it, then why would anyone argue against an excuse to give and receive chocolate?
In 1977, a confectionery company from Fukuoka had begun marketing marshmallows as a way for men to repay the ladies on March 14. The country’s National Confectionery Industry Association saw an opportunity and so the very first White Day was the following year, on March 14, 1978.
Confectionery companies began to market white chocolate as the symbol of the official day. White is the color of purity and, of course, of marshmallows and sugar itself. As mentioned earlier, today the tradition goes well beyond white chocolate, to chocolate of all shades, as well as jewelry and other appropriate gifts according to what the men had received on the 14th of the previous month.
The original name of the practice was “Ai ni Kotaeru White Day” or “Answer love on White Day”.
If You’re Not That Guy
I guess that a Japanese dude might feel a little bad if he doesn’t get honmei-choco on Valentine’s Day but he need not get too down about things. He’ll probably still get some chocolate (albeit, the very unsexy “obligation” kind), and not only that, but he doesn’t have to dig deep in to his pockets to pay it back a month later. That sounds like winning to me!