Valentine's Day in Japan

An eastern twist on the Valentine's Day tradition

In Japan, Valentine's Day (February 14th) was first introduced in 1936 by a Japanese Confectionery Company called Morozoff Ltd. Later in 1953 the company began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates.

Originally, it was the custom in Japan that only women gave chocolates to men. In particular, office ladies give chocolate to their co-workers. Some Japanese women feel obliged to give chocolates to all male co-workers. This is known as giri-choko, from giri ("obligation") and choko, ("chocolate). However, unpopular co-workers will only be given "ultra-obligatory" cho-giri choko (cheap chocolate). Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales during this time of the year. However, the Confectionery business flounders if Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday which is a holiday in Japan!!

Honmei-choko (Favourite chocolate) is chocolate that is given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko; from tomo meaning "friend".

In the 1980s the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a "reply day". They called it "White Day". On this day, men are expected to "return the favour" to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day. I understand that the name "White Day" was chosen because it is the colour of purity, and because it is also the colour of sugar.

On White Day, men are expected to return gifts that are at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts they received on Valentine's Day. Returning a present of equal value is considered a way to say that you are finishing the relationship. Originally, only chocolate was given, now other gifts are considered acceptable. (You should stick to tradition, I say!)

Date: 11/02/2011