Valentine's Day is an important holiday in Japan but, just as other “borrowed” calendar events, it widely differs from the classic day of love we know in the Western tradition.

Valentine’s Day in Japan

It would seem that Valentine’s Day is strictly reserved for the feelings of love. The Japanese call these day the “chocolate day” – giri choko. However, contrary to popular notions, chocolates are not given to women by men but the other way round. Giri is a term used in Japan in respect of various types of obligations. As a result, Valentine’s Day is slightly subversive in Japan. The fact that women give chocolates to men does not mean that they have feelings for them. Chocolates are usually given to colleagues, neighbours, friends or other men towards whom women are somehow obliged.

Chocolates of gratitude

Chocolates are usually labelled with the word “kansha,” which is Japanese for “gratitude.” Public expression of feelings is not welcome in Japanese culture. The Japanese are virtuous and they consider the inability to control your emotions as a vice. The only way a Japanese woman professes her love on Valentine’s Day is by making the sweets for her beloved on her own, while presenting other men with chocolates bought in a shop.

How is Valentine’s Day celebrated in Japan?

In Japan, 14 February is not dominated by heart decorations and love confessions. Instead, shop windows are filled with chocolates, and there are signs informing about the approaching “chocolate day.” Giri choko are presented by women to any men towards whom they have some obligations. The quantity and quality depends on the social rank of the recipient. However, the tradition is changing – nowadays Japanese shops also offer honmei choko, that is chocolates given out of love, or tomo choko – chocolate gifts for friends on Valentine’s Day. Unlike in the Western world, the Japanese do not go on dates on 14 February. Men will show their gratitude to women one month later – on 14 March, which is the White Day.

Japanese Valentine’s Day chocolates

Japanese are famous for their sophisticated tastes when it comes to chocolates. Beautifully decorated, made of the best products, sweets of over 100 chocolate manufacturers from all over the world flood Japanese shops on 14 February. On chocolate day, Japanese women spend from 3 to 15 thousand yens. Each manufacturer tries its best to encourage the Japanese to buy its products by offering fanciful shapes and tastes. We can find chocolates shaped after small animals, butterflies, hearts, bows and other cute and “child-like” motifs, always in colourful packaging with a ribbon.

Japanese holidays

Holidays in Japan, even if borrowed from the Western tradition, usually differ from the latter considerably. This is also the case for Valentine’s Day, which emphasises love and feelings between two people everywhere else in the world, despite chocolates being involved too. In Japan, it is an opportunity for people to show each other respect and for women to fulfil their obligations towards men.

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