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Valentine's Day in Japan
Valentine's Day in Japan
Japanese Valentine's Day is Different

Every year across Japan, Japanese people celebrate a holiday of love and compassion similar to its western counterpart. This holiday occurs every February 14th and is named Barentain Dei / バレンタイン デー (St. Valentine’s Day). Barentain Dei was introduced in 1936 by the chocolate company Morozofu Kabushiki Gaisha モロゾフ株式会社 through advertisements targeted to foreigners. Valentine’s Day was not yet ready for chocolate giving and it would take decades for it to become a chocolate-giving holiday. It was 1953 when Morozofu began advertising Heart-Shaped chocolate candy and later in 1958 the Isetan Department Store 伊勢丹 advertised Valentine’s Day sales where it became a popular custom in the early 1960s.

The Japanese custom of Valentine’s Day usually involves women giving men chocolate. The origin of this custom is widely believed to a translation error during the original Isetan Department Store commercials where women were seen giving chocolate to men instead of men giving chocolate to women. There are various types of chocolate for Barentain Dei, each having their own respective reason for giving and receiving.

Giri-choco 義理チョコ
Giri-choco 義理チョコ is an obligation chocolate where many women feel obligated to give to males with no romantic connection to offer gratitude or prevent embarrassment. The concept of Giri in itself is generally due to giving something back to someone hence the obligation in giving chocolate.

The chocolate itself is store-bought and usually never of the expensive kind. Typically Giri-choco will cost less than $10USD however in some instances it can be more expensive than good wine. More recently, giri-choco has become less popular and many businesses have been asking their employees to donate what they would have spent on giri-choco to a charity.

Honmei-Choco 本命チョコ
Honmei-choco 本命チョコ are expensive store-bought chocolate or home-made chocolate to be given to those whom the girl cares most about such as romance. Honmei-choco can take a lot of time to prepare which demonstrates heart-felt dedication and compassion for the individual receiving it. The term honmei originates from favoring a horse in horse racing where the correlation is favoring a male among the others competing. Today the term means true love or the one you genuinely love. In 2014, there was a controversy surrounding Honmei-choco when a trend on Twitter erupted with secretly (sometimes not) insert a part of the women’s self into the chocolate such as hair, menstrual blood, saliva, and even nail clippings. It did not become viral again in 2015 perhaps for the better.
Tomo-Choco 友チョコ
Tomo-choco 友チョコ is a newer type of chocolate, where girls give other girls chocolate because of their friendship. The term “Tomo” originates from Tomodachi meaning friend/companion in Japanese. There are no minimum or maximum amount that can be spent on tomo-choco as it’s merely a kind gesture for the female friendship.

Jibun Choco 自分チョコ
The last type of chocolate is known as Jibun choco 自分チョコ, meaning chocolate for myself. Generally this chocolate is bought as a reward for all the hard work and dedication put forth into Valentine’s Day and is a more recent phenomenon. It is bought with the sole purpose of consumption by oneself, not to be shared; after all it’s a reward for baking and sharing.

While giving Giri-choco it is possible to cause a very unfortunate experience due to a misunderstanding. At times, giri-choco is perceived as honmei-choco and as a result the male thinks the girl likes him while the girl doesn’t think anything of him. In competitive settings such as school, males tend to compete with others to see who can get the most chocolate. Long ago in the distant past, Japanese women used to give men handmade sweaters and other clothes however the modern culture tends to think of it as very corny.

White Day (Opposite from Valentine's Day)
Men are expected to return the favor a month later in what is called White Day. Every March 14, White Day is celebrated much like Valentine’s Day (albeit not as grandiose), it involves males returning the favor to those whom gave them honmei choco. Generally chocolate are white and more expensive than the ones received during Valentine’s Day, upwards to two or three times as much.

Chocolate baths exists throughout Japan in some Onsens (Hot Spring) and Sentou (Bath house). Some baths are filled to the top with chocolate where groups of people or couples bathe in all of its chocolate goodness. It is important to note that it is not entirely made of chocolate, but rather a mixture of water and chocolate. Chocolate baths often begin early February and end at the end of March.

It is said that Japan holds the world record with the most chocolate sold during Valentine’s Day and according to the Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan, in 2009 Japan produced approximately 196,553 tons of chocolate, and over 19,375 tons were imported from Australia, Belgium, China, France, Italy, South Korea, and the United States tallying over 212,657 tons. Due to the severe increase in the global population with a taste bud for chocolate, droughts, and diseases, chocolate is becoming more difficult to produce for the demand and as such, the cost of real chocolate steadily increases.

According to a 2006 survey of men and women between the ages of 10 and 49 conducted by Oricon Style, they found that the most popular Valentine’s Day song was Sayuri Kokushou’s 1986 hit single Valentine’s Day Kiss. Below you will find a video of the remake by the popular all-girl jpop group Watarirouka Hashiritai 7 (from AKB48 Copyright Pony Canyon).

August 30, 2018 Update: The video was since removed and a different artist (Kokusho Sayuri) is shown.

Did you know that during the occupation of Japan (1945 – 1952), American soldiers would give Japanese children chocolate which made chocolate so much more popular in Japan? In fact, it is said that the children’s first English phrase was "Give me more chocolate".

Want to learn more about White Day? Click here for the Editorial!
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