Giving Chocolate to the Man you Love

 While in other countries it’s the men who offer flowers or other gifts to women, or lovers give gifts to each other, in Japan, it’s the women who offer chocolates to men, who only receive the gifts.

Valentine’s Day is the busiest season for chocolate makers all over Japan, who make between 10 and 13 percent of their annual sales in a few days. Buying good and/or expensive chocolate at the most famous shops is common, but making handmade chocolate or chocolate treats is thought to convey more feelings. That is why in many shops (such as 100-yen shops) you will find all sorts of cute molds and heart-shaped decorations before Valentine’s season. And as it is often the case in Japan, the wrapping is at least as important as the gift itself, and you will also find a great selection of boxes and ribbons.

As a matter of fact, many women also prefer to cook the sweets themselves in order to save money!

 But where does this tradition of offering chocolates come from?

The origins of Valentine’s Day in Japan: some key dates

 You probably won’t be surprised to know that Valentine’s day, more than elsewhere in Japan, is a commercial celebration. Literally so: it was popularized by the chocolate making industry. Here are some key dates:

  • – 1932: The Japanese company Morozoff started selling chocolates in Japan
  • – 1936: Morozoff suggested offering chocolates for Valentine’s day in the English language newspaper ‘The Japan advertiser’.
  • – 1958: The shop Merry Chocolate, located in Tokyo’s famous department store Isetan, organized the first chocolate sales for Valentine’s day. They sold… 5 chocolate tablets!
  • 1960: The Japanese sweets maker Morinaga made the first huge Valentine’s day advertisement campaign in newspapers. From then the celebration got increasingly popular.
  • – In the 70’s: high school girls started offering chocolates to the boys they love.
  • – In the 80’s: birth of the concept of offering chocolates to express gratitude. The ‘giri-choco’ was born (see below).

Offering ‘obligatory’ Chocolate…?

‘Real’ Valentine’s chocolates (the ones you give to the man you love) are called honmei-choco’ (本命チョコ). These ones are supposed to convey romantic feelings. As you may have guessed, it there is a word for chocolates that express love… it means that there are other chocolates that don’t! 

Tomo-choco’ (友チョコ), is chocolate you give your friends (‘tomodachi’ in Japanese) as a mark of affection. Women offer them to their male friends, but also to their female friends, making an exception to the “men only” rule. In a similar way, girls can also offer chocolate to their fathers, brothers and other male family members.

Giri-choco’ (義理チョコ) is a real reflection of Japanese culture. Giri means ‘obligation’ in Japanese, so the expression refers to chocolate offered to people you are obligated to: co-workers, bosses, teachers, sometimes family members, etc… To make sure the ‘giri-choco’ are not mistaken with ‘honmei-choco’, they are often of cheaper value, but they still represent a big expense for working women. For this reason (and also because it is time-consuming), some companies have decided to officially ban the ‘giri-choco’ tradition. Some other companies just casually do not observe it. If you are a woman living in Japan, the best is to ask your co-workers about it a few weeks in advance!

These two kanji read as ‘giri’: there is no doubt about the meaning of this chocolate heart!

But the existence of ‘giri-choco’ also offers an advantage: if a woman is not sure if her ‘honmei-choco’ will be accepted as such, or if the man is not interested but does not want to hurt her feelings, both can pretend the ‘honmei-choco’ was just ‘giri-choco’ and save face – an other important Japanese concept. 

White Day

Women offering chocolates filled with love is a nice concept, but what about men, then? How can they answer the women? you may want to ask. Well, there is another tradition for this: the White Day. Taking place exactly one month after Valentine’s day, it is when men offer gifts to women. To know more, read our article here:

‘White Day”, an event for couples made in Japan?

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AUTHOR

Amelie

Amelie

Writer / Translator

I’m French but I’ve been living in Tokyo for many years during which I had a lot of meaningful and thrilling experiences. I’m curious and I love learning new things. My hobbies are kick boxing, scuba diving, Japanese traditional painting, etc… As a writer, I’d like to share information about less touristic, more authentic places. I will also write about all the fun and cultural activities unique to Japan.