How Does Japan Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Published February 14th, 2022

One of the highlights of February is Valentine’s Day! This holiday of love and chocolate is just around the corner! People all over the world take this day as an opportunity to express their love and celebrate it with gifts. Men, especially, scramble to plan the perfect date and to pick the perfect present.

This Western holiday is relatively new in Japan, but the Japanese already have their own customs and traditions. On February 14th, the guys take it easy while the women prepare days in advance. Wanna know how to celebrate Valentine’s Day the Japanese way?

History of Valentine’s Day in Japan

As mentioned earlier, the current celebration of Valentine’s Day is a relatively new tradition in Japan. Compared to the UK and the US, where they have been celebrating since the 1800s, the first Valentines celebration started in Kobe in the 1930s. However, this holiday only became popular in the country in the 1970s.

Morozoff, a Russian confectionery shop, had an advert in the local English newspaper to promote their special chocolates for this romantic holiday. This was aimed at foreign residents, originally.

Over the span of the next few decades, other businesses started having campaigns for Valentine’s Day, too, encouraging Japanese women to buy gifts for the men in their lives on this day. Not long after, the confectionery business seized this opportunity and started selling heart-shaped confections whenever February is near. Fast forward to now, and we have every convenience store, supermarket and restaurant offering exclusive Valentine’s Day deals and menu options.

How is Valentine’s Day Celebrated in Japan

Men around the world try to get the perfect bouquet of flowers to go along with a perfectly arranged box of chocolates. All of that for that ideal date on the 14th of February. The roles are reversed in Japan. It’s the women who are the busy bees.

You read that right. Women are the ones planning the dates, making reservations and searching for the best presents. Valentine’s Day kind of became part of the kokuhaku (告白) culture in Japan. The word translates to “love confession”. This is when someone confesses their love for another, and if they reciprocate those feelings, the two start a relationship together. On this romantic holiday, women have the opportunity to ask that hot guy out.

Together with this confession is a box of chocolates. This is the biggest tradition in Japan, similar to the rest of the world. The only difference is that women sometimes make chocolate from scratch, for this occasion, in Japan. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never made chocolate from scratch before.

Now, guys, don’t be so quick to be relieved. These chocolates are reciprocated one month later, on March 14th. This day is called “White Day”, which is a whole other article.

Another thing that’s different is that, in Japan, Valentine’s Day isn’t just exclusively for your romantic partner. Isn’t that great news for our single ladies and guys out there?

Types of Chocolates

When we talk about chocolates on Valentine’s Day in Japan, we aren’t only talking about romantic chocolates. Remember when I said that the Japanese don’t celebrate this day only with their significant others? Sometimes, it’s with friends or family. And depending on who you celebrate the day with, you have different types of chocolate.

Honmei Choco

The most popular type of chocolate is the most obvious one, and that’s for someone you have feelings for or your partner. This is known as the honmei choco (本命チョコ), which translates to “true feeling chocolate”. Because this type of chocolate is the most expensive, high-end type of chocolate, it’s like the Rolls Royce of Valentine’s Day chocolate.

If the name isn’t clear enough, this type of chocolate is reserved for a romantic interest. You can’t give them to just anyone. Some girls would want to pour their emotions into the chocolate by making homemade chocolates themselves.

Giri Choco

The second most popular type of chocolate is the giri choco (義理チョコ), which translates to “obligation chocolate”. Since gift-giving is a huge part of Japanese culture, everyone participates in giving out chocolates on Valentine’s Day, to colleagues, friends and family. They all fall under this category of chocolate.

Now, giri chocolates aren’t going to be expensive at all. In fact, this is how you can differentiate between honmei and giri choco. If you receive a limited edition box of chocolates, then be prepared to be confessed to. If it’s a mass-produced wrapped candy, you got a bar of obligation chocolate then.

Gyaku Choco

Valentine’s Day in Japan doesn’t mean only girls are allowed to give chocolates. The guys are still allowed to, but it won’t be honmei’ choco. It’ll then be called gyaku choco (逆チョコ), where “gyaku” means “reverse”. It has the same meaning as honmei choco, just the other way around for genders. If you boys can’t wait till White Day, get your girlfriend some gyaku choco!

Tomo Choco

Single ladies, you won’t miss out on chocolates at all. We get our fair share this time of the year, especially from our friends. The chocolates we get from them are called tomo choco (友チョコ), which translates to “friendship chocolate”. The word “tomo” is a short form of the word “tomodachi” (友達).

The name is straightforward enough, so you get chocolate from friends. This type of chocolate is between girls, so if you’re a guy and you get chocolates from another guy friend, it’s called homo choco (ホモチョコ).

You don’t have to wait for someone else to get you chocolates, get yourself some jiko choco (自己チョコ). What better way to celebrate a day of love than showing love to yourself!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

So as you can see, the Valentine’s Day traditions for Japan differ quite a bit from the rest of the world, but nothing short of festive either. How will you celebrate this day of love this year? The Japanese way of celebrating or the Western way? Regardless, remember that self-love is also worth celebrating on this day. You don’t need a partner to enjoy this holiday. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!