Celebrating Valentine's Day in Japan

If you have been living in Japan for a while now, you might have noticed that the shops here are really on top of the holidays. No sooner do the clocks strike 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 25 than the Christmas trees turn into New Year’s decorations, which then change to ogre masks faster than you can say mamemaki (bean throwing) for setsubun.

But if you regularly shop in places like Loft or Tokyu Hands, you might have noticed another display slowly taking over retail spaces: Valentine’s Day. Rows and rows of gift boxes, wax paper, ribbons and the like in every shade, plus veritable mountains of chocolates, sprinkles and other ingredients to tease over eager crowds of women.

Two kinds of chocolate

Valentine’s is celebrated differently in Japan than in most countries overseas. Here, women prepare chocolates or other sweets for the object of their affection, as well as for the other important people in their lives.

Some, like giri choco (obligatory chocolates, the term for chocolates given out of obligation to others) are usually store-bought and, while quite nice, not something to get very excited over. Many women give these to their male co-workers, bosses and even their fathers and brothers.

On the other hand, honmei choco (true love chocolates), are only given to your crush, boyfriend, husband or someone to whom you want to confess your love. These tend to be home-made, but can also be purchased at luxury chocolate shops, high-end department stores or even imported.

You may be asking yourself: what do the men do in return? Well, you’ll have to wait until next month to see a return — specifically Mar. 14, or White Day. It can be a nerve-wracking …continue reading