As I write this I am aware that Valentine’s Day is close at hand – well tomorrow as I write and today when you see it!. What should I – must I – do on that special day? I’ve been checking and have come across the cutting from the ‘Mainichi Daily News’. On a page I found a story that may be fun – its headline are ‘Valentine’s Chocolate has various meanings’. I had to be intrigued so I bought a copy of the paper.
Oh – did I tell you where I found this? The newspaper is the ‘Mainichi Daily News’; it was – and far as I am aware still is – published in Tokyo and Osaka – and I bought it there on Tuesday 11th February 1986.
The story – on this page – starts with a 13 year old girl called Fumiko who explains: ‘There was this boy that I really liked, but I was too shy to talk to him. When Valentine’s Day came, I presented him with a homemade chocolate heart. He said he didn’t want it and gave it back on the spot.” All over the world, Valentine’s Day gives people the chance to say “I love you”. Here in Japan it also gives you the chance, if you’re a high school boy, to say “get lost”!
The newspaper in 1986 says: ‘Valentine’s Day in Japan is a strange institution. It was introduced into the country in the 1960s by confectionery companies, as a means of boosting chocolate sales. In that respect it has been a resounding success. Unlike other countries where cards and miscellaneous gifts change hands, chocolate is firmly established here as the standard token of love.’
Later on in the newspaper we have: ‘This can lead to such heart-breaking refusals as Fumiko’s. On the other hand, it does vastly increase the institution’s efficiency as a way of getting teenagers together. For while the British are scurrying around trying to work out who sent the card, and whether it was meant seriously or not, the Japanese system in its purest form is a perfect matchmaker.’
Let’s now let’s us move forward to 2018 and there we find a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Valentines Day. There are two types of chocolates, “Giri-choco” (obligation chocolate), and “Honmei-choco”.
Giri-choco is meant to be for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. “Giri” means obligation hence this Giri-choco has no romance involved. On the other hand, Honmei-choco is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband with true love.
Japanese women often prepare the Honmei-choco by themselves as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the readymade chocolate at shops. You will start seeing large displays of chocolate, often heart-shaped in department stores and grocery stores from mid-January. Days before the Valentine’s Day, stores get packed with a large variety of chocolates, the cooking tools, and women!
What is more unique in Japan is that there exists a “White Day” which takes place on 14th March – exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. On White Day men are supposed to give return gifts to women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. More often the colour of the chocolate is white because of the name of the day. Flowers, candies and other gifts are also popular along with the chocolates. Again, department stores have many advanced reminders with gift displays so men will have no excuse to forget about this special day which is important for women.