Valentine’s Day in Japan

久しぶり (hisashiburi; “long time no see”). I’ve been plotting ways to make this blog more aesthetically pleasing and better organized so I hadn’t planned on making a post until that was done. However, Valentine’s Day is nearing, and it’s like an institution in Japan. Plus my friend posted a link to this article about the lack of romance in Japanese marriages, which I wanted to share as well.

The guys (and girls) who complain that Valentine’s Day is a holiday concocted by chocolate industries may be onto something… at least in Japan. Valentine’s Day hit Japan in the 1950s as chocolatiers promoted events to boost sales. The corresponding White Day (which is on March 14) was also a marketing ploy.

In February, plain chocolate becomes ridiculously cheap since they’re the vital ingredient to making chocolates. There are even free recipes available in the stores.
On the other hand, there are also fancy chocolates that go up to hundreds of dollars per package. Shopping centers and supermarkets have Valentine’s Day sections featuring every type of chocolate in every sort of packaging available. I also saw ties, cologne, and even elephant face boxers (you know, the ones with a strategically placed trunk) being sold in the special Valentine’s Day section in my city’s shopping center.

When I did my Valentine’s Day presentation, my students could not believe that guys were the ones giving presents. In Japan, the girls give guys chocolates, and it’s not just to the one they like. 本命チョコ (honmei-choko) is for your significant other or romantic interest. I’ve seen “honmei” get translated as “favorite”, “true”, or even “dead certain”. It’s the one that carries the true sentiment of romance. 義理チョコ (giri-choko; “obligation chocolate”) are those you give to bosses, co-workers, and male friends. Recently there has been chocolates made specifically for female bosses to give to subordinates. There’s also 友チョコ (tomo-choko; “friend chocolate”) for your female friends.

The guys don’t get off that easily though. On March 14, there’s White Day, when the lucky guys who got Valentine chocolates have reciprocate the gifts with more expensive chocolate or other gifts like jewelry and perfume. White Day was also a market ploy by the confectionary industry. It appeared in the 1980s, and white chocolates were used because the color represented pure love. If you didn’t get chocolate, I suppose you don’t have to get anything even if there is someone you are interested in. I didn’t see a full-blown White Day section in the shopping center, but there are plenty of reminders.

Since Valentine’s Day was over the weekend, I unfortunately did not get to witness much. I saw a couple teachers with gift bags on Friday, and I brought chocolate to karaoke. My students did ask me about it when I had a chance to do a Valentine’s Day lesson. The 1st graders were baffled by the lack of White Day, as were my 3rd year junior high schoolers. A couple of my 3rd year boys asked me who was the first person I had ever given chocolates to. I said “No one”, which surprised them. Then I said that I once gave a boy I liked a card but didn’t get anything back. I probably lost a lot of cool points there. The elective class had to make Valentine cards. While the girls had cutesy designs and anime drawings, the boys drew weird stuff like poop and caricatures with huge lips. I suppose the differences between boys and girls are the same everywhere.

Japan Times – “White Day”
Time – “How Valentine’s Day Conquered Japan”
The Wall Street Journal – “Valentine’s in Japan: Sweets for All the Men in Her Life”

Listening to: “Mata Kimi ni Koishiteru” by Fuyumi Sakamoto (the most popular love song to sing at karaoke, according to Barks)

Leave a comment


  1. I think you forgot about the creepy factor in regards to giving male bosses Valentine’s Day gifts.

    I got an email the other day from the ladies in my department saying we should give our boss a Valentine’s Day gift. My immediate reaction was a resounding, “HELL NAW!” Needless to say, I did not contribute to this. Thankfully, being American, I have the excuse of “different culture, different rules for holidays” to fall back on, since giving a V-day gift to a male boss is just creepy to me.

    • I don’t find it creepy, but a part of me would feel like I’m bribing my boss. If I were to give Valentine’s Day gifts, it’d be to everyone, not just the guys.

  2. Jen

     /  February 14, 2012

    Nice post! V-day is almost over here in Japan. I was at one of my JHS. I didn’t see ANYTHING related to Valentine’s at all. No one exchanged anything, except after school, I saw a 3rd year girl writing valentine’s notes on tiny post-it notes for some teachers. Hardly a Valentine’s gesture, though. I was completely shocked at the lack of excitement or even general acknowledgement of the holiday. I kind of went into today a lot less cheerful than I thought I would since I was planning to make lots of chocolates and really participate in a Japanese Valentine’s. But it turns out I’m completely broke and all my fluffy fantasies went out the window. Plus, I wasn’t at my favorite school where my romantic interests are XDDD Anyway, today was beyond normal. Kinda sad T___T

    • I wonder if some schools have a rule about exchanging gifts since only a couple of my sempai had stories to share. Maybe people are getting sick of the holiday like they are here.


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