How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day in your home country? In most countries, the special day falls on February 14th, and men and women around the world express their love for each other, by exchanging presents or going on dates. In Japan, however, it is not only for couples (or families) but also friends or even co-workers celebrate Valentine’s Day together. A variety of exciting events are held, and you have the opportunity to try new products or sweets that are exclusively sold during the annual event. Here is some helpful information about unique Valentine’s Day customs in Japan.
The origin of Valentine’s Day in Japan
When did the concept of Valentine’s Day first appear in Japan? There are several stories about the origin of Valentine’s Day in Japan, but it is widely believed to have arrived in Japan in the 1930’s. Morozoff, a famous Japanese confectionery company, started as a small chocolate shop in 1931 when it started a marketing campaign to encourage people to buy and send chocolates to loved ones on February 14th. And so Valentine’s Day was introduced in Japan.
Valentine’s Day became more popular throughout the 50’s, when some other business and department stores started selling heart-shaped sweets, packed in cute boxes and romantic wrappings. In addition, the concept of Valentine’s Sale was introduced. It was clearly for commercial purposes in the beginning, but it gradually changed into a new custom in Japan. Throughout the 70’s – 80’s, it became more popular nationwide with a new concept that still exists even today as the fundamental idea of Valentine’s Day in Japan.
Valentine’s Day in Japan: “Valentine’s Day is when women give chocolate to men!”
This idea is rather unique and only known to some Asian countries including Japan and Korea. In other areas like Europe and North America, it is considered a day when men send a special gift or treat women in a special way, which is completely opposite to what we do in Japan!
Valentine’s Day in Japan
Unlike other (Western) countries, there is a range of options to choose from home to celebrate the special day. It all depends on who you prefer to spend Valentine’s Day with!
Spend Valentine’s Day with family
Give chocolate or sweets to your kids or family. You can hold a special chocolate party or go shopping for special products and sweets, with limited Valentine’s designs or flavors!
Spend Valentine’s Day with a loved one
Celebrate Valentine’s Day like most other countries in the world do: take the special day to tell your loved one how much you love them with a memorable gift! It doesn’t necessarily have to be chocolate, but everything can be the perfect Valentine’s present as long as it is thoughtful. Join exciting events held at popular tourist attractions or spend a relaxing time watching favorite movies at home!
Spend Valentine’s Day with friends
The third option that is also popular in Japan: call your friends and have a Valentine’s party! Get together with your friends and give each other some (home-made) chocolate sweets and enjoy some time together. Or organise an online party, to celebrate the special day safe at home or with friends that live far away.
Japanese Valentine’s Day gifts
On February 14th it is custom for women to give presents like chocolate to their crush, but also to co-workers, friends and family to show their appreciation. This time of the year, stores have a wide range of chocolates on offer. In addition, homemade chocolates make a popular and more personal gift to loved ones. There are different types of chocolates to be given, depending on your relation to that person.
1. Giri choco
Giri choco (義理チョコ) is the type of chocolate that you give to someone who you don’t really have a crush on, but want to show your appreciation to. These can be your co-workers, siblings, parents, or any other person around you that supports you. The origin of Girichoko can be found in the 1970’s, when women started to give chocolate to their colleagues. Some people regard it as a good opportunity to express their gratitude to others, which can result in smooth communication. Giving giri choco is in no way seen as romantic and often the chocolates are a little cheaper.
2. Honmei choco
Honmei choco (本命チョコ) are the chocolates that you will want to give to your loved one, or the person for whom a woman has romantic feelings. Indeed, honmei choco are the love chocolates that are often of high quality, sophisticated designs, and more expensive. Women take great care into selecting the right love chocolates for their crush!
3. Tomo choco
Tomo choco (友チョコ) refers to the exchange of chocolate or other gifts between friends. The unique custom is said to date back to the early 2000’s, when girls and women started to send chocolate to their friends as a token of friendship. Some people get together and hold a (girl’s) party with chocolate sweets, while others secretly bring gifts to their friends and exchange them at school or office!
4. Jibun choco
Some girls also like to themselves and buy Jibun choco (自分チョコ), chocolate you buy and give to yourself for a well-deserved little treat.
Heart shaped chocolates with cute, lovable designs are the most popular gift, but not everyone gives chocolates. Other sweets, or gifts like jewellery, watches or other useful presents are popular gifts as well.
White Day: March 14th
One month after Valentine’s Day, on March 14, another event is celebrated in Japan known as White Day. This is when the men who received a Valentine’s present are expected to return the favour. After girls and women give their loved ones a gift on Valentine’s Day, White Day is something they are looking forward to: is the feeling mutual? White Day is the day when men show their feelings by giving presents to the women that gave them a present on February 14th.
On White Day, there are in turn different presents to be given such as marshmallows, cookies and other sweets. Each come with their own meaning.
Marshmallows used to be a popular gift to give on White Day, though in the last decades its meaning changed significantly. Because marshmallows can melt and dissolve, they are seen as a sign of disliking. Probably something to avoid on White day.
When a girl receives cookies on White Day, she will most likely be disappointed; with cookies men say ‘you are just a friend’.
The best gift to receive is candy, especially hard candy as it signifies that the boy likes the girl too. Candy is something that you can enjoy for a longer period of time
Popular (chocolate) Events on Valentine’s Day
Some of the popular tourist attractions in Tokyo organize Valentine’s events that draw numerous visitors each year. Explore the limited products and chocolate sweets at Solamachi, a giant shopping hub located at the ground of Tokyo Skytree. They also offer special discounts for couples to go on a romantic date; ice-skating at an ice-skating rink that is temporarily located at the foot of Tokyo’s landmark! Yomiuriland is an fun amusement park that holds a unique competition on Valentine’s Day each year: participants compete one another to pile up small-sized chocolates called Tirol Choco (チロルチョコ) like a tower. If you win the competition, you receive 1,000 Tirol chocolate!
Tokyo Tower organises a Love Step Up event on February 13 & 14, wherein you can walk up to the first observation deck and enjoy the romantic view from there. The tower is also illuminated in alternating colors of pink and red.
You can also visit some shrines and pray for luck in your love life. Some shrines that enshrine deities who are said to granting love-related wishes include Imado Shrine in Tokyo, Hikawa Shrine in Saitama, Koi no Ki Shrine in Fukuoka.
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
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Valentine’s Day is a special event that takes place at the beginning of each year to warm up our heart. It allows everyone to spend a sweet, memorable time with someone who loves them or cares about them. In Japan, the popular event is celebrated a little different from other countries; girls give presents, mostly (homemade) chocolates, to their loved ones or crushes, but is it also very common to give something to friends, family or co-workers to your appreciation of that person. On March 14, known as White Day, boys are expected to give something to women in return to show their love.