Valentine's Day in Japan

Posted by Swan Domergue on

Valentine's Day in Japan

There are two things that our blog will not teach you:

The first thing is that February 14th is Valentine's Day, a special day dedicated to lovers that give them a chance to show the love they feel for their partner.

The second is that Japan has some cultural points that you won't find anywhere else, and this concern various subjects including this special day, and that is a thing that many peope ignore and that we will discover all along this article !


The History of Valentine's Day!

The importance of Valentine's day varies according to couples, some of them will see it as an important feast which needs to be celebrated with your faithful soul mate, while others will just see it as a commercial celebration that allow the actors of our capitalist world to make more profit. But did you know that in the Christian religion this day actually has a long history that has been celebrated for many centuries?

Who was Saint Valentine?

Because the celebration of Valentine's Day dates back to approximatively 500AD, several legends explain this specific day and the reason why it happens on February 14th.

One legend says that Saint Valentine was a martyr that was executed by the Roman emperor Claudius II after refusing to convert people to paganism. Like most of the sentenced to death people, he spent some times in jail before his execution and fell in love with his jailer's daughter after miraculously healing her from a serious illness and converting her to Christianity

Another legend says that Saint Valentine was a Roman Priest who held weddings for soldiers that was actually not allowed to get married because the Roman Emperor would see them as bad soldiers who could not be good warriors due to their family responsibilities. This Saint Valentine put on a ring with Cupid-a symbol of love-to help soldiers recognize him. And, before making the greeting cards, he distributed paper hearts to remind Christians of their love for God.

Anyway, what we notice is that Valentine was a saint who opposed the Roman Empire to assert its values based on the love of people. And Valentine's Day is actually a feast that celebrate the bravour of this priest and the power of love.


An event celebrated all over the world

We saw that Valentine's Day was basically a Christian festival, but like most of them (Christmas, Easter....) it became a tradition in all the countries, and the interesting point is to see how the people celebrate the day of love according to their culture.

In Argentina for example, we do not talk about a Valentine's Day to celebrate love but about a full week of sweetness that occurs in July when lovers exchange kisses and chocolates all the week long.

In Bulgaria 14th of February is called  "San Trifon Zartan" which literally means "the day of winemakers". The couples will traditionally buy an expensive bottle of wine and share it on that day to celebrate their love.

In Ghana, February 14 is celebrated as "National Chocolate Day". The Ghanaian government took this step in 2007 to increase the country’s tourism industry. Ghana is one of the largest cocoa producing countries in the world. On February 14, people can participate in performances, music events and restaurants with a special day themed menu.

We will not detail all the traditions of each country on Valentine's day as this article will take years to be read, however we will recommend to people fond of discovering foreign cultures to get inform about how to celebrate the day of love in the different region of the world since it is a really interesting subject to learn.


Valentine's Day in Japan

Among all the ways to celebrate Valentine's Day, the Japanese tradition is as usual very unique and interesting.

First of all, it's surprising to know that the tradition of Valentine's Day arrived pretty late in Japan since 14th of February did not have any specific meaning in Japan before 1950s. Also, while Valentine's Day it's known to be an event that gives the opportunity to couples ( both women and men) to show their love to each other by exchanging gifts in the Western countries, in Japan only women bear the pressure of offering presents to their partner in mid-February. This is absolutely not due to the patriarchal image that the japanese society has, indeed the tradition requires men to give presents back to their lover one month later during the White Day that we will explain more accurately later in this article.


A Chocolate Day

Before World War II, most of the western customs and products did not even exist in Japan. Indeed in our previous article about Kit-Kat we explained that even chocolate was not consumed on the archipelago before the 50s. The American domination after the armistice allowed Japan to be much more open to other cultures and to import more products from the West including chocolate.

The best way to promote this new addictive product was to link it with a new tradition also coming from the West. This is how the Japanese department stores decided to kill two birds with one stone and started business campaigns.

The targeted people are women who want to buy the cutest and yummiest treat to their lovers. The Japanese grocery stores did not hesitate to focus on the packaging to seduce their customers and this is why from the beginning of February the stores shelves are full of different types of chocolate boxes offering a various range of tastes and shapes in order to satisfy the demand of the beloved girls. 

Yes, Japan is probably the country where consumers are the packaging influences consumers the most, and this also explain why some stores will also offer a wrapping service in order to make the box even more special.


Packaging Valentin's Day - Konbinisan

Different kinds of chocolate

Another interesting point to underline in the culture of Valentine's Day in Japan is that people do not offer chocolate only to their partners. Indeed the goal of this special day is to offer treats to the persons that you love and they are not only limited to your lover.

Therefore, the Japanese chocolate makers took advantage of this to create a various range of chocolates dedicated to your partner, your co-workers, your family and even...yourself!!

  • Honmei choco” (本命チョコ): Meaning "the chocolates of true feelings", they are the chocolates that women will offer to their beloved partners. They are usually the most sophisticated, tasty and expansive ones, but many ladies will even do the effort to only buy the necessary materials to make their own chocolates and show their true love to their men.
    Giri Chocolate - Konbinisan
  • Giri Choco” (義理チョコ): Meaning "Obligation Chocolates", they are the chocolates that a lady will offer to someone she has a good relationship with in order to show her gratitude and nurture the friendship. It is really common to receive this kind of present from a good Japanese female friend and this gesture does not mean that the concerned woman is harboring a romantic feeling to the person she is offering the chocolates to. The Giri Choco are usually found in regular grocery stores and despite the fact that the quality could vary, they are usually unexpansive products.
Giri Choco - Konbinisan

  •  Tomo Choco (友チョコ): Meaning "Chocolates for friends"", those treats are usually offered to women friends as a way of showing gratitude for friendships. It is quite common that ladies friends will contact each other on Valentine's Day to exchange boxes of Tomo Choco at a Kissaten (Café), have a chat over a cup of tea while savouring the chocolates.
  • Family Choco (ァミリーチョコ): Meaning "Chocolates for families", many japanese women also wants to thanks their family members for the given love that they express to her. Japanese have a deep sense of family and it seems natural that some women want to pay tribute to their family members through Valentine’s Day gifts.
  • Gyaku Choco (逆チョコ): Meaning »Reverse Chocolate". We noticed that on February 14th the tradition in Japan wants the women to buy chocolates for the people they love in order to show their gratitude for the relationship they have with them. However some boys do not hesitate to breach the rules as they also want to show their feelings to their beloved partner. The Japanese chocolate makers have quickly noticed that and developed some chocolate boxes dedicated to these gentlemen.
    Gyaku Choco - Konbinisan
  • My Choco” (マイチョコ): Some people assume that in life we spend most of our time with...ourselves. Therefore it is really important to love our own person and to treat ourself. As selfish as this might sound it is actually true and understandable and some people will see on Valentine's Day and occasion to pamper themselves by eating chocolates.


My Choco - Konbinisan

Only Chocolate?

Nevertheless, Valentine's Day is not exclusively about chocolates. Even though the tradition and marketing push women to offer many kinds of chocolates to their different relatives and friends some of them will prefer to offer other kinds of presents especially to their partners. The most common gifts beside of chocolate are usually: Watches, neckties, gloves, shirts or simply a romantic weekend in a fancy hotel.


White Day

Exactly one month after Valentine's Day, on March 14th, role reverse and it's time for men to show their love and gratitude. Likewise Valentine's Day, men offer sweets and other tokens of affection for the women in their life and those include: partners, family members, co-workers and friends.


White Day - Konbinisan

Not about Chcolate

We saw that Valentine's Day is mainly about chocolates, but White Day is slightly different. White Day was actually invented by a Japanese confectionary back in the 70s, which encouraged men to buy marshmallows to women in return of the chocolates they received for Valentine's Day a month before. Therefore at that time, men were mainly buying marshmallows for their lovers but nowadays, the will usually fancy cookies at macarons to express their love and emotions. Another common treat is white a chocolate which refers to the name of the feast chosen for its associations with purity happiness in most of the Asian cultures.


Other gifts

Beside (or in addition to) sweets, White Day gifts might also be luxury items such as jewelry, high brand purses and clothes or a dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant. As the famous quotation says "When you love you don't count" and there is no prices that will avoid someone to show its gratitude for his soul mate. It is usually expected from  men to spend more money on White Day that women would do on Valentine's Day but this is not a strict rule that is mandatory to be respected, and isn't the free power of love the most important thing after all ?


Happy Valentine's and White Day!

Now that you know everything about Valentine's and White Day in Japan, if you are a Gaijin living in here or if you share your life with a Japanese partner abroad, you know exactly what the Japanese expect on those specific days and you do not have any excuse  to not spoil the people that you love. Feel free to comment your experiences on this article and to see our catalog to find the perfect sweets and chocolates to offer!





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