Every year around the world florists, chocolatiers, and soft cuddly toy manufacturers make millions of dollars on the one single day – Valentine’s Day. Men or women can give presents or cards in secret or in public – except in Japan.
Because in Japan, Valentine’s Day is almost exclusively an opportunity for women to express their love to men.
While in the rest of the world, both men and women celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving flowers, and other anatomically incorrect heart shaped gifts, Japan reserves the fourteenth of February for women, that is for women buying the gifts.
How this role-reversal happened is not exactly clear, but some blame a deliberate translation error by the man who introduced the idea to Japan.
But not to fear, as the Japanese also uniquely celebrate White Day (Howaito Dē, ホワイトデー), a somewhat unusual reverse Valentine’s Day on March 14th.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of White Day, and only ended up here on a ‘fluffy teddy bear’ google search gone wrong. That’s ok, we all make mistakes, but if you want to read more about the origin and customs of White day in Japan feel free to read a parallel article on White Day here.
However, this post is going to focus on the way in which the Japanese celebrate Valentine’s Day. So here goes.
Apart from the major difference already mentioned, namely it is the women who give the presents to men, another difference is that giving presents on Valentine’s Day is not solely for romantic purposes. You can buy different types of chocolate for different people. Of course there is the honmei-choko (本命チョコ, “favourite chocolate”, or “chocolate of love”), which is romantic and usually handmade given by the female to her ‘favourite’. But there is also the giri-choko (義理チョコ, “obligatory chocolate” or “courtesy chocolate”), which is usually store bought and not that expensive, given to people you have to, such as bosses, co-workers, or male friends.
And there is even the tomo-choko (友チョコ, ‘friend chocolate’), a more recent, but successful addition to the chocolate giving scene in Japan, given by women to their female friends.
The latter is perhaps in response to the rise of Japanese singles who have no interest in engaging in a relationship with the opposite sex (which according to this article, “nearly half of all singles in Japan have no interest in dating” and “a significant portion of Japanese simply [have] no interest in sex. They might even have an aversion to it”).
Notwithstanding the claims above, and the fact that there is even a Valentine's Day protest group in Japan called Kakuhido, which roughly translates as the Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women find unattractive (read more about it from this article "Valentine's Day: single Japanese men protest 'chocolate-giving arms race"), Valentine’s Day is still a big deal in Japan. You can often see large displays of heart shape chocolate in department stores and supermarkets from mid-January, and days before Valetine’s day stores get packed with a huge range of chocolate and the various tools required for honmei-choco, along with record crowds of women to buy the chocolate.
But perhaps more amazing about Valentine's Day in Japan, is that despite the fact that only half the population are buying and making the chocolate, chocolate companies in Japan sell more than half their annual sales during the week before Valentine’s Day.
Have you ever experienced the madness and magnificence of Valentine’s Day in Japan? Are you ready for it this year?
Why not leave a comment below.