Living in Japan

Valentine’s Day in Japan 

Although Valentine’s Day originated from a Western Christian tradition, different versions of it are celebrated around the world. After all, romance isn’t exclusive to European Christians. Some unique Valentine’s Day traditions have surfaced in Japan, as they have in various countries. Japanese Valentine’s Day traditions largely revolve around the gifting of chocolate, but there are many other fun, lovey-dovey things you can do on Cupid’s Day. If you’re looking for fun date ideas or want to learn more about Valentine’s Day traditions in Japan, keep reading! We’ll teach you about everything from “giri choko” to the most romantic date night ideas. Here’s a guide to Valentine’s Day in Japan. 

Valentine’s Day Chocolate

While you might be used to gifting your sweetheart chocolates without thinking about gender roles, Valentine’s Day is a little different in Japan. Traditionally, women give men chocolates. Even if this isn’t quite what you’re used to, you might think that a gift of chocolates from a woman is a romantic gesture. However, the situation is a bit more nuanced in Japan. On one level, Valentine’s Day is the romantic holiday that you’re used to. On another level, it’s a day that a woman must show appreciation for all the men in their lives, regardless of if she has any romantic interest in them or not. This is where the distinction between “giri choko” (obligation chocolates) and “honmei choko” (chocolates to express romantic feelings) come into play.

Women typically give “giri choko” to men they feel they must give chocolate to. This includes relatives, managers, coworkers, and friends. Despite the fact that they’re obligatory chocolates, “giri choko” can be high end department store chocolates. No matter their cost, a gift of “giri choko” is not a romantic gesture. There is some backlash against “giri choko”, as women may feel pressured to spend lots of money to satisfy bosses and coworkers. This has led to some companies banning gifts of chocolate on Valentine’s Day. 

“Honmei choko”, in contrast to “giri choko”, are chocolates that women give to men whom they have romantic feelings for. They are love chocolates that signify wanting to be more than just friends (or coworkers). Women tend to put a lot more effort into “honemi choko” than “giri choko”. Rather than buying them at a store, they often make these chocolates by hand. If she chooses to buy them at a store, a woman will usually take more time selecting and spend more money on “honemei choko”. 

White Day

White Day is a day you may not be familiar with. It falls on March 14th. Men are expected to reciprocate and give chocolates to the women they received chocolates from on Valentine’s Day. White Day is a chance for men to show the women in their lives how much they appreciate them. In addition to reciprocating gifts of chocolate, men often ask women out on dates on White Day. Couples may take some time to do something fun together or relax at home. Overall, White Day is a romantic holiday that lets men take the lead when it comes to gift giving. 

Fun Valentine’s Day Date Ideas

If you’re already in a relationship, you might want to skip the ritualized chocolate giving and go straight to a romantic evening. If your one and only already knows what your true feelings are, there isn’t much use in “honmei choko” (aside from the fact that it’s delicious). For those near Tokyo, we suggest taking your date to TeamLab Borderless. The stunning illuminations are sure to delight them. Another great place for a date in Tokyo is the Sunshine City Aquarium in Ikebukuro. The aquarium usually hosts special events for Valentine’s Day, such as sea lion performances. Regardless of if there are events this year or not (some may be cancelled due to Covid-19), it’s always fun to look at interesting sea creatures with someone you love.  

Wherever you are in Japan, you aren’t too far from some beautiful nature. Plan a hike and/or picnic for your Valentine’s Day date. While it’s still a bit chilly in February, flowers are starting to bloom, so you’re sure to come across a worthwhile view. You don’t have to venture too far out of the city to enjoy a nice outdoor date. There are many nice parks to picnic in and rivers to walk alongside even in cities like Osaka. If you and your partner don’t find the great outdoors to be very fun, consider taking them to a spa. There are a variety of unique treatments offered in Japan that you can both try out! 

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Julia Nagai is a writer, translator, and teacher living in Osaka. She researches and writes about a variety of topics including culture, marketing, tourism, and social media. In her free time, Julia enjoys photography, chess, and hiking.


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