Valentine’s Day in Japan - The Meaning of the Chocolate you Give

Updated: 07/02/2023
HomeBlog Valentine’s Day in Japan - The Meaning of the Chocolate you Give

No matter our relationship situation, some people enjoy Valentine's Day while others dread it. It usually requires a mix of long-term planning (or last-minute, inventive problem solving) and a stash of cash to get through it all without coming off as unromantic to your significant other. If you're still looking for original gift suggestions for your special someone today, embrace your Japanese side right away! 

You might find it fascinating to learn that Valentine's Day is observed completely differently in Japan, where women give presents to men. If this is unclear, continue reading to find out how it is actually observed in Japan so you may celebrate Valentine's Day the Japanese way.

Don’t forget you can shop for creative and unique Valentine’s Day gifts from Japan using a forwarding address from forward2me. From V-Day candy to a special handmade gift or a rare collector’s item - we’d be happy to help you with your Valentine’s Day gift shopping. 

History of Valentine's Day in Japan

Despite the fact that Christianity is not a part of Japanese culture, the holiday arrived there thanks to an import: chocolate. The introduction of chocolate to Japan at the beginning of the 20th century did not originally excite many people because wagashi, the traditional Japanese sweets, were already well-established.

By the 1930s, there were a large number of chocolate-producing and -selling establishments in Japan, but they catered to non-Japanese consumers. One such store, Morozoff, which was managed by a Russian immigrant, is to blame for introducing the tradition of giving Valentine's Day chocolate to Japan.

Japanese chocolate sales finally surpassed those of traditional Japanese sweets in the 1950s and 1960s due to modernization, changing lifestyles, World War II, and the subsequent US occupation. Large department stores in Japan launched advertisements promoting the gifting of chocolate.

Despite being a Western import, Valentine's Day is hugely popular in Japan. By the middle of January, pastries with cocoa accents have taken the place of the festive goods that once filled the aisles. It's a big deal, for sure! Young girls and women are drawn to levels of fancy, affordable chocolate with various themes and characters by pink-coated pavilions, and exhibits are encircled by dapper boxes made by upscale chocolatiers. 

Giri Choco - Obligatory Chocolate 

Giri choco

Giri choco is a cultural phenomenon that only exists in Japan. In the 1980s, this tradition expanded and the Japanese began to offer chocolate to people close to them to thank them as a sign of appreciation. It's called giri choco because giri means "courtesy" in Japanese.

Over the years, the custom of giri choco had become an unspoken obligation that every woman had to give chocolate to her male colleagues. Another tradition was created that men had to return the favor of gift giving to the women on March 14, which became known as "White Day". The Japanese are known to be shy by nature, so companies thought that encouraging this tradition was a good way to create more interaction between men and women in the workplace. Women will make bags with differently flavored candy such as Hi-Chew or buy Kit Kat bars to give as giri choco. 

If, nowadays, mentalities are changing and this tradition is debated, giri choco remains a day eagerly awaited like Halloween or Christmas and, each year, Japanese chocolate makers compete in creativity to offer new forms and new flavors of chocolates for the honmei choco and the giri choco

Honmei Choco - True Feelings Chocolate

Honmei choco

Honmei choco ("true feeling chocolate") in Japan is chocolate given by women on Valentine's Day to men whom the giver has romantic feelings for. This is often given to husbands, boyfriends, and prospective boyfriends.

Honmei choco is inspired by romantic interest and given as a form of Valentine's Day confession, aka, kokuhaku. Some women even prefer to make honmei chocolate on their own, rather than purchasing it from a store, as an expression of their devotion. Special molds and DIY confectionary boxes are all part of the effort to craft homemade chocolate. Whether you’re the giver or receiver, don’t get your signals crossed!

Other Types of V-Day Chocolates

Nowadays though, as times change there are even more "types" of valentine's day chocolate. In recent years tomo choco or "friend chocolate" has become more and more common. And a type of chocolate that you give yourself is also becoming extremely popular in recent years. 

Tomo Choco

Just as the name suggests, tomo choco is meant for one’s friends – tomodachi in Japanese. These chocolates can be given to both male and female friends, although since women are usually the ones doing the giving, the recipients tend to be female as well. Tomo choco is meant to celebrate platonic love between friends so as to not alienate those who do not celebrate Valentine’s Day or have no romantic partner. 

Gyaku Choco 

Translated as “reverse chocolate”, gyaku choco refers to chocolate that’s given by men to women on Valentine’s Day. In other parts of the world, men and women exchange chocolates on Valentine’s regardless of gender, but in Japan, the women are usually the ones who give out chocolates on Valentine’s. 

This is due to the existence of White Day, which is a “reverse” Valentine’s Day where the men give the women chocolates instead. It occurs on 14th March – exactly one month after Valentine’s. Men are supposed to return the favour to women who have given them chocolates on Valentine’s.  Much like honmei choco, gyaku choco is also usually either handmade or expensive, in order to showcase the degree of affection the sender has towards the recipient.

Jibun Choco 

Last but not least, we have the jibun choco, or chocolate that one buys for oneself. Everyone deserves some chocolate on Valentine’s Day, so why should you be an exception? There is no “usual” when it comes to jibun choco – it can come in any shape or form according to one’s personal preference, so just buy whatever your heart desires.

Whether you decide to treat yourself to some jibun choco or surprise your loved one with honmei or gyaku chocolate, by using a shipping address from forward2me you can get all your orders from Japanese retailers deliveder straight to your door even if the store doesn't offer international shipping. 

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