Happy Valentine's Day! I thought it would be fun today to share how Valentine's Day is celebrated in Japan. The biggest difference from the U.S. is that only women give men gifts. I bet a lot of American men would like that!
The typical gift to give is chocolate which is usually beautifully packaged and elegant. Leading up to Valentine's Day the Japanese department stores have many beautiful displays of chocolate for sale.
There are two types of chocolate to give. First is giri choco (義理チョコ) which literally means "obligation chocolate." This is given to male co-workers or friends where the woman has no romantic intentions. Giri choco is usually fairly inexpensive and a polite gesture to give.
The second type of chocolate is honmei choco (本命チョコ) which literally means "true feeling chocolate." As you can suppose it is given to boyfriends, husbands, or a guy that a woman is romantically interested in. Honmei choco is usually higher quality and more expensive than giri choco.
A month later on March 14 men reciprocate on White Day (ホワイトデー, pronounced Howaito Dē). While Valentine's Day was adopted from the West, White Day was started by the National Confectionery Industry Association in the late 70s as a way for men to give return gifts to women (and for the Confectionery Industry in Japan to rake in more money). If a man received chocolate on Valentine's Day then he should respond with a gift, usually about three times the cost of the chocolate he received. Popular gifts can be white chocolate, marshmallows, jewelry, or cookies.
My experience in Japan was limited to giri choco that I gave to about twenty of my co-workers. I put together little treat bags with chocolates for all of the guys in my group as well as a number of other people that I worked with on regular basis who were in other groups. On White day I received some chocolates and little potted plant from my group as well as a small purse and a beautiful white handkerchief.
While celebrating was very low key for me there was definitely some angst among some of the Japanese women I knew. Because of the tradition of women giving men a gift on Valentine's Day it is a perfect opportunity for a woman to let a guy know that she is interested in him by giving him honmei choco. I knew some women who were worried about whether or not they should make their feelings known by giving Valentine's chocolate, which chocolates would be best and would the guy understand that it was meant to be honmei choco, not giri choco. Very stressful!
All in all, I had fun celebrating Valentine's Day in Japan. It gave me a nice excuse for me to give little chocolate presents to my co-workers to let them know I appreciated working with them. I also had fun looking at and drooling over all of the beautiful displays of chocolate. I even ended up buying myself a box to eat because, well, I felt obligated.