How to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day in Japan

By TERRY - Last updated: 火曜日, 2月 16, 2010 - Save & Share - 5 Comments

  On this Feb.14th which was “Saint Valentine’s Day” ,  “Valentine’s day Campaign Akihabara”, a special event of  the  Akihabara “maids”  giving chocolate donuts to passers-by  in Akihabara  Tokyo, the most famous mecca of  the Japanese subcultures, such as video games, anime, and manga,  was held.   This event was organized by JNTO(Japan National Tourism Organization) as a part of  the VJC(Yokoso Japan, Visit Japan Campaign), ATPA( Akihabara Tourism Promotion Association), and some other related associations. 5323775

 VJC has been promoted since 2003 by the  Japanese  government to encourage inbound activities and visitors from foreign countries all over the world. As some other writers and myself  have written on this website, subculture represented by the Akihabara styles and concepts are quite popular  not only in Japan but  worldwide nowadays.  So, this  event was conducted especially in order to promote those cultural aspects and attractions of the area to foreign visitors and tourists.   

  In addition, in many areas , special events related to valentine’s Day were held on the 14th. For example,  the kissing demonstration  of  seals at Shimoda Aquarium(/下田海中水族館) in Shimoda City,  Shizuoka Pref., and   the display of  so many colossal heart-shaped LED(light-emitted diode) bouquets at  Shinmachi-bashi- higashi Park(/新町橋東公園) in Tokushima City, Tokushima Pref., with about 100 local residents decorating the park using the artificial bouquets and  releasing  about 5000 plastic balls in each of which LED was included  into the  river  there. Totally about 2,3000 LEDs were used for the event, which satisfied those who joined it saying; the light made very romantic hues and atmosphere.    That event was a forerunner one of  the ” Tokushima LED Art  Festival 2010″  which is going to be held in the coming April in that city.


 And in Hikone City, Shiga Pref.,  Hikonyan,  the  very popular image character created for the series of commemorative events of  the 400 anniversary of  the Hikone Castle which is a national treasure in the City in 2007,  was given totally 224 chocolates,which is the record-high in these three years, and so many valentines  by its fans all over Japan on the 14th.  The municipality hosted a special thanksgiving event at  Hikone Castle Museum(/彦根城博物館) , at which Hikonyan happily posed for photos with the ample chocolates it had been given. PN2010021401000433img42686557 


    To begin with,  as  it is widely known,  the Saint Valentine’s Day(St. Valentine’s Day or just Valentine’s Day) is  a kind of  worldwide  special memorial or holiday that is said to have been set up by a Catholic Pope in the  fifth century in token of  a martyr saint who had defended young couples against the law.

  However, in Japan  the ways of  practices of the day are slightly different  from that of  other countries in general.   In other countries, St. Valentine’s Day is a special day that  lovers express love for each other by presenting gifts or the greeting cards of valentine.  But  traditionally in Japan , celebreting  Valentine’s  Day is a relatively new custom introduced from the West,  and yet unlike in western or other countries, has widely become prevalent among young people as the special day that for girls to confess and express  their love to boys.  The day is primarily  recognized as a special occasion on which a girl gives chocolates   in token of  her confession and love. Actually, this new practice has been supposed to be first developed and promoted by confectionery companies as a sales strategy. Some people even say that Japanese girls are supposed to be comparatively demure and timid, which justifies the society to set a moral that they ought not to declare their love, and to prepare an exceptional occasion for them to tell they love boys.  Personally, I don’t think this idea should be correct, as Japanese girls are as free as boys in the present-day  Japanese society ,and, on the other hand, some boys are quite demure or timid as well even today.  Actually, the true reason  or back story of  that Japanese style of  celebrating the day is not  clear yet.

 And what is more, females are expected to give chocolates to their male family members, male co-workers,  bosses, and so forth on the day. Needless to say, those ” ordinary male acquaintances or just friends” are not the female’s “boyfriends or lovers” at all. Yet that kind of   gift chocolates  are considered to be ” good lubricants”  for their relationships and atmosphere in the workplaces or any other  human relations.  That type of  ” a protocol chocolate gift ”  is called ” Giri-choko” (/義理チョコ, an obligation chocolate), while the authentic chocolate to express her love to a boy, a boyfriend, or a husband is called ” Honmei- choko”(/本命チョコ, a chocolate for one’s sweetheart).

People are encouraged so much to buy both giri-choko and Honmei-choko by confectionery companies, department stores, and other businesses previous weeks of  the day, but chocolates for standard giri and those for standard honmei are so different at the prices set  up by stores. Anyway so many those stores usually set a special “Valentine’s Day Gift Corners” full of  varieties of  selections of chocolates and other sweets. Still some people don’t like this practice as the costs of  even cheap giri-choko can be very burdensome if a female must buy them for all her male colleges and friends, if  some men are given giri-choko and some are not in the same office by the same  female co-worker, then this practice would backfire, as it can make the  atmosphere there so bad.  However, in spite of those negative possibilities, usually many females don’t grumble and happy to buy chocolates and men are also happy to be given giri-choko even though they can’t be given a  honmei-choko from any girl…  20100213_04_1

What is unique to Japan and Korea concerning the Valentine’s Day practice is we have the ” White Day” on Mar.14th,  just one month from a Valentine’s Day. On that day, a male who was given a chocolate from a female on the Valentine’s Day of  the year is supposed to give some gift ,such as cookies, handkerchiefs, or more expensive items, whose prices are usually to be commensurate  with the “degree of  importance”  or the price of the chocolate that he was given by her. The idea of a male  ” giving back a gift  to a girl who gave him a  honmei-choko  to express his will of  accepting her love” is the basic concept  of  the  White Day, which was started by Ishimaru Manseidou, a confectioneryin Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Pref. whose primary specialty is marshmallows that are usually white, which became  the reason of the name of the White Day  The store began to promote for sales of a marshmallow as the suitable gift as a return to a chocolate  gift of  the Valentine’s Day in 1978. Since then this new custom has rapidly prevailed nationwide and even to the neighboring country . Therefore, as it were, instead of   the practice of  mutual  exchanges of gifts on  one day of Valentine’s Day in other countries, we may have two separate days for that practice.              

In addition,  we now have a  much newer  practice style of  chocolate gifts  for the Valentine’s Day;  It  started just  so recently especially among young girls that a girl gives chocolates to female friends in token of  an ordinary female friendship. This  new type of  chocolate gift is called ” Tomo-choko”(/友チョコ, a chocolate for a  friend).  

  Considering  those  historical processes of the development  or evolution of the quite unique styles of  the Japanese way of  celeberating  the St. Valentine’s Day,  like other cultural items and aspects, Japanese culture has prominent potential to accept  and refine any new or latest  foreign-originated  cultural things to make them more ” distinctive Japanese culture”.

 Personally, on this 14th, I got only two  “giri-choko” , one of  which was given by my  mother !… and  no honmei-choko at all…  Iam eagerly looking forward to being able to receive a  “homei-choko” next year !!

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5 Responses to “How to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day in Japan”

Comment from Tenkaijapan
Time 16/02/2010 at 09:12


I think Valentine’s Day is pretty much for women. They can give a less expensive present in the long run.
A lot of websites say that White Day was invented by a marshmallow company in the ’60s as a way to increase sales, but I can’t find any reliable source for this explanation.
Can you find out that??


Comment from TERRY
Time 16/02/2010 at 15:39


Thanks for your comment. I agree with you, though there may be females who would disagree with us 🙂 As for the reliable source of the historical back story of the White Day, as I wrote here on this page’s text, 石村萬盛堂(Ishimura Manseidou)’s official website refers to the point. here is the URL  

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