It’s Valentine’s Day next week, which means it’s high time I posted a blog about how Japan does Valentine’s Day!
Valentine’s Day really kicked off in Japan in the 1950s but is arguably just as commercialised as it is in the west. Traditionally, it was very unusual and even taboo for women to confess their feelings, so establishing a day when it is acceptable for women to take that risk makes for a good marketing opportunity. In fact, Valentine’s Day was first pushed by chocolate companies in Japan – who’d have guessed!
In Japan, it’s customary for women to get men gifts – mainly chocolate- on Valentine’s Day. It’s not quite as simple a process as it is over here, however, as there are a few different types of chocolates you can give. Why the chocolate hierarchy? I’m putting it down to a very successful marketing campaign!
Giri chocolate roughly translates to ‘obligation chocolate’, and is given to men the giver is not romantically involved in. Friends, bosses, family members, colleagues, classmates and senpai may be lucky enough to receive giri-choco. That’s potentially a lot of people to buy chocolate for, so giri-choco tends to be cheap.
‘Honmei’ translates to ‘favourite’ or ‘best candidate’. This is the actual romantic chocolate for your boyfriend, husband or crush. A lot of women in Japan will make honmei-choco themselves to prove their affection, rather than buy it like giri-choco. A lot of shops will also sell chocolate-making ingredients, so you can get creative.
Friends, usually girl friends, will treat each other to this friendship chocolate. That way, no one is left out! What are friends for if not sharing chocolate?
Men buying women chocolate on Valentine’s Day? That’s clearly unusual, so you need to get gyaku-choco, aka ‘reverse chocolate’.
My favourite kind, ‘self chocolate’! Why not treat yourself if you’re shopping for lots of other people. Apparently people spend the most money on this type of chocolate…
There is something else that makes Valentine’s Day in Japan fairly unique. All that chocolate you bought is returned to you a month later! Well, in theory at least. On White Day, 14 March, men are supposed to return the favour to the women who bought them chocolate. This could be more chocolate, flowers or even handbags. Department stores will run promotional campaigns to remind men to get ready for White Day, so there are no excuses.