Romantic Japanese Valentine’s Day Traditions

By Liv, DMT Collaborator on 13th February 2022 (updated: 31st January 2022) in Blog

We all know the deal with Valentine’s Day in the UK – shower the one you love in gifts and treats, send secret love notes to your crush, or confess your love with a grand romantic gesture. It’s the one night of the year everyone wants to have the perfect date!

But how is the day of love celebrated elsewhere? Let’s take a little trip to experience some Japanese Valentine’s Day traditions…

Japanese Valentine’s Day Origins

Valentine’s Day in Japan doesn’t have a particularly long history and is mainly considered a Western import. Despite Valentine’s celebrations only being traced back to around the 1930s, the country has developed rich customs and traditions around the holiday.

A Japanese couple, dressed in traditional clothing, walk down a street holding hands.

Victoriano Izquierdo via Unsplash

Rumour has it, Japan’s love affair with the day of romance started with, of all things, an advertising campaign! Confectionary manufacturers saw potential in the holiday and began marketing heart-shaped chocolates to ex-pats and locals alike.

The idea caught on and began to be viewed as a socially acceptable way for Japanese women to express their feelings to the object of their affection, known as ‘kokuhaku’. Before this, it was considered very taboo for a woman to ‘make the first move’. Some people even credit the introduction of Valentine’s Day with breaking down some conservative gender roles in the realm of Japanese romance.

Nowadays, Valentine’s Day is still pretty popular in Japan, raking in huge profits for chocolate sellers, who often compete to have the most impressive and eye-catching love-themed window display.

But how are gifts exchanged on Valentine’s Day in Japan? Well, it’s a little more complicated than you might think…

Rather than a free-for-all of gift-giving and feeling-confessing, women are expected to take the reins on Valentine’s Day.

While in the UK, we might expect gifts of jewellery, wine, flowers and fancy meals, chocolate is the only expectation in Japan, regardless of the recipient. There are, however, different kinds of Valentine’s chocolates to symbolise different types of relationships.

Couples on Valentine’s Day

When it comes to a romantic relationship, women and girls give ‘honmei-choco’. These are gifted to husbands, boyfriends, lovers and secret romantic interests. These are usually the most expensive, fancy, and well-thought-out chocolates. Sometimes they are even handmade, indicating extra care and investment. 

Around Valentine’s Day, many shops will sell kits for making your own honmei-choco, complete with gift wrap.

Handmade chocolate treats on a plate, showing a lot of attention to detail and thought.

Cee via Unsplash

Family, Friends & Colleagues on Valentine’s Day

Unlike in the UK, Valentine’s Day isn’t just about romantic love for the Japanese. 

‘Giri-choco’ roughly translate to ‘obligation chocolate’ in English. These tend to be less expensive than honmei-choco, and are intended as a debt of gratitude to male bosses, co-workers and family members.

Self-Love on Valentine’s Day

But Japanese Valentine’s Day isn’t just about giving to others. 

Some women have decided they deserve a little treat after all their generosity. Many have openly complained about the stress and financial pressure to give increasingly more impressive chocolates to all the men in their lives, without repayment.

Hence, ‘jibun-choco’ developed. A ‘chocolate to gift to yourself’, jibun-choco has become more common in recent years.

Galentines Day

In a similar vein, ‘tomo-choco’ are typically elaborate chocolates gifted between female friends to celebrate their platonic relationships.

Just like the Western trend of ‘Galentine’s Day’, women show their love for female friends rather than focusing solely on romantic or working relationships. Go girl-power!

heart shaped treats on a table, along with a placeholder that reads happy galentines

Uby Yanes via Unsplash

White Day

While Valentine’s Day is all about the boys in Japan, there is a day for giving back to the girls.

‘White Day’ was, surprisingly not the result of fed-up women demanding repayment for all the chocolate they’d bought over the years, but yet another marketing campaign! 

The Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association weren’t content with just one day of the year to generate unrivalled sales, they wanted two! In the 1980s, they successfully introduced White Day as a day for men to reciprocate the gifts of Valentine’s Day. They chose the name ‘White Day’ as the colour is believed to symbolise purity, and is associated with an innocent kind of shared love.

On White Day, if a man doesn’t return the favour of gift-giving at all, it is considered an insult. If he gives back only equal to what he received, it is taken as an indication that he wishes to end the relationship. 

The correct etiquette for White Day giving is to give at least two to three times the amount of chocolate received on Valentine’s Day, if you wish to maintain the relationship!

a box of elaborate heart-shaped chocolate.

Amy Shamblen via Unsplash

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day? 

At INTOKU, we think there’s no better way to share the love than with a hearty meal filled with joy & flavour. Everyone’s invited!

Book now to bring your special someone for the date night of their dreams at our Windsor or Chelsea location. Alternatively, if you’d rather have a private and romantic night in, we are taking pre-orders for takeaway and local delivery.

Don’t forget to show your appreciation this Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s with a partner, friend, or family member, celebrate with sushi!



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