Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Japan

Valentine’s Day is all about love around the world. The Japanese celebrate Valentine’s day in two different ways: Valentine’s Day and White Day. Both have their own unique traditions and ways to celebrate.

Valentine's Day in Japan - a couple on the street

Valentine’s Day

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th, like in many other countries. However, it focuses on women giving gifts to men.

Most Valentine’s traditions focus on romantic partners or interests in the Western world. But in Japan, women will give gifts to all of the important men in their lives, including fathers, brothers, and friends.

History

Japanese Valentine’s Day is a fairly modern holiday and was not introduced into Japanese culture until the 20th Century, the 50s. It quickly became commercialized, and you could find heart-shaped and various types of chocolate across major retail and department stores.

Gifts

What kind of gifts do girls give out? The answer is simple, Valentine’s day chocolates. Cards and flowers hold less importance. Instead, it is all about sweets. Heart-shaped chocolates have become the traditional gift.

As mentioned, women give gifts to all of the important men in their lives. However, there are two different kinds of chocolate that they give out.

  • honmei-choco or 本命チョコ
  • giri-choco or 義理チョコ

Honmei-choco is for the men you love, a boyfriend or a husband. A woman would also give out honmei chocolate to men who they take a romantic interest in. It’s a way of sharing their true feelings for a special person, so they can be in a relationship with them.

Giri-choco is for the platonic relationships that Japanese women have with family members, male friends, and coworkers, for example.

If you think giving chocolates to all of the men in your life would get expensive, you would be right. You could be spending thousands of yen depending on how many friends and coworkers you have. Check out this article to learn more about the Japanese Yen.

Traditionally on this holiday, there is an obligation to give out gifts. It is not optional. You will probably be offending some people in your life if you decide to skip out on giving out gifts.

Valentine's Day in Japan - chocolate

White Day

White Day in Japan is where the roles reverse one month later. On March 14th, it is the men’s turn to give women gifts for a different version of Valentine’s Day.

Men now have a social obligation to give gifts to all women in their lives, not just romantic partners. If you received chocolate on Valentine’s Day in Japan, you should be returning the favor on White Day giving it back to your female friends.

History of White Day in Japan

Like Valentine’s Day, White Day is also a more recent Japanese celebration. First advertised as “Marshmallow Day,” this holiday was picked up in the 1970s.

In 1978, a confectionery company called Ishimura Manseido was inspired to return the favor to women. They created marshmallow candies filled with chocolate that men could buy and give out to the women in their lives.

Some years later, Marshmallow Day became White Day because white symbolizes love and purity.

All kinds of gifts for White Day

Today, men are not expected only to give out marshmallows on this special day. In fact, men are expected to buy 2 to 3 times the amount that women spend on their gift-giving holiday.

Here are some common Valentine’s Day gifts.

  • Confectionery treats
  • Dessert
  • Perfume
  • Jewelry
  • Handbags

The value of the gift you plan to give mainly depends on your relationship with the woman. The closer or more romantically linked you are, the more expensive the present is.

Valentine's Day in Japan - street view

Are Valentine’s Day and White Day Losing Popularity?

The short answer is yes. Being obligated to give presents to multiple people in your life can be very expensive, stressful, and tedious. Women have been giving out less and less chocolate each year on Valentine’s Day in Japan, so in return, men have been participating less in the White Day festivities.

Valentine’s Day and White Day are more focused on consumerism than culture or traditions, so it is not surprising that it is losing popularity in Japan in recent years.

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