Updated: Mar 6, 2020
As a gal whose birthday falls the day after Valentine's Day, it's always been important that the two are celebrated separately. Those with holiday birthday's are sure to understand. But living in Japan means there are some differences in observing this day of candy hearts and flowers, the biggest being that it is tradition for women to give chocolates to men.
I remember thinking its was an odd thing. It's vastly different from America, and can seem off-putting to those who haven't grow up in the culture. But as you do when you move to a different place, you ask questions and dive a little deeper below the surface. There are layers and nuance to this day, a way to be acknowledged or appreciated, and I find this to be lovely because it's not a day focused solely on romance.
We may find this practice a little funny, but the Japanese people, particularly the youth, celebrate February 14th with great enthusiasm! And as intentional as their practices can be, it makes complete sense that even on a day such as Valentine's there would be significance found in the types of chocolates (or baked goods) given. It all depends on the relationship, and because I find it very interesting, this is what I want to break down for you today.
Giri Choco - 義理チョコ
Giri choco are obligation chocolates that are given to co-workers, family members, and acquaintances. These are not considered romantic, but a gesture of appreciation and acknowledgment.
Jibun Choco -自分 ョコ
Jibun choco is the chocolate you buy for yourself, and who doesn't love a little jibun choco? If this is a day you don't observe (or even if you do), treat yourself and enjoy something decadent!
Honmei Choco - 本命チョコ
Honmei choco are meant to be given to a romantic partner, or a person for whom a woman has romantic feelings. This choco is given more care in terms of selection. It is often of higher quality, is much more aesthetically appealing, and unsurprisingly costs more.
Tomo Choco - 友チョコ
Not everyone celebrates the romantic nature of Valentine’s Day or gives gifts to co-workers. Instead, it's common for women to give chocolates to their girlfriends. These are known as tomo choco. Tomo, which is an abbreviation for 'tomodachi' means friend!
Gyaku Choco - 逆ョコ
Gyaku-choco means reverse chocolate and is given by a man to a woman. Because it’s not traditional for men to give chocolate on Valentine’s Day, gyaku choco doesn't happen often. Typically the gesture is returned on March 14th, also known as White Day.
White Day is the day when the recipients of Valentine's chocolates are expected to return the sentiment of acknowledgment or affection. It is all about the women, and there is an entire month to prepare, but here lies another twist: while Valentine's calls for only chocolates or baked goods, on March 14th whatever is given back is expected to be worth at least three times the amount of the gift received to any woman from whom they received a choco from the month before. They can give gifts like handbags, lingerie, flowers and clothes.
It's an implied "rule", and I'm honestly not quite sure how closely everyone receiving on Valentine's Day adhere's to it. Logic dictates it's probably a little bit of everything, and in general I tend to see women receiving beautiful boxes of chocolates and/or lush bouquets of flowers. That sounds top notch to me! But I come from a very unique place of having my birthday on the 15th so when I'm asked how we observe Valentine's in Japan, I always say 'as the Japanese do'.
I'll already be doing plenty of celebrating so I don't have a problem with it. It's not the same for everyone, of course, but it is why I tend to have plenty of fun with it. Besides, my boys do deserve all the love. We know this.
So whether you're head over heels, want to tell your friends how glad you are to have them in your life, show appreciation for someone you work with, or even have a super sugary sweet tooth, Valentine's Day in Japan is certainly different from how it is in the U.S., but it does have a bit of something for pretty much everyone, and I think that's pretty sweet.