On Japanese Valentine’s Day, women spend cash and shed (hopefully metaphoric) blood, sweat and tears on chocolate for their true loves … and also some other dudes.
Ah, Valentine’s Day. You know it’s coming because the grocery store endcaps are piled with shiny, red, heart-shaped boxes and fuzzy teddy bears, and every other online ad you see is for jewelry. Japanese Valentine’s Day, like the Canadian version, also takes place on February 14, but it is a whole different box of chocolates—literally. Forget about cards and jewelry, because JV-Day is all about chocolate. On the day in question, women all over Japan buy or make chocolates for all the men in their lives. You read that right: women shower men with gifts. Male coworkers, bosses, and classmates get “obligation chocolate” (giri choko), just-a- friends get “friend chocolate” (tomo choko) and romantic partners get “true love chocolate” (honmei choko). Some ladies choose this day as the day to confess their feelings for the first time to a secret crush.
Rumour has it that this gifter-giftee switcheroo was the result of a simple mistranslation. In 1936, when V-Day was first introduced to Japan, a bigwig at the luxury confectionary company Morozo misheard his Western friend as saying that it was a day when “women give men gifts.” This misunderstanding gave birth to a little campaign to sell heart-shaped chocolates to housewives, and the rest is lost (or gained, if you’re a dude) in translation. It’s no surprise that this is a big day for Japanese chocolate companies, who do more than half their annual sales for the occasion. Last year’s Valentine’s Day raked in ¥138.5 billion, and that number is expected to grow again in 2018.
Chocolatiers may be busy this time of year, but store-bought goodies aren’t the only way for a Japanese woman to show her love, appreciation, friendship, respect or obligation. Some people believe that money can’t buy love, and a true Valentine’s Day honmei choko must be carefully made by the woman’s own hands. But apparently, even that is not enough for the truly committed. A couple of years ago, Twitter users were declaring that, to really form a close connection with that special someone, you should add a special ingredient to mark your territory: mix in a little hair, saliva or blood. Urban legend? Practical joke? Only the chefs will know.
While many Japanese participate in the more conventional gift-giving aspects of Valentine’s Day, some men are protesting. In 2006, a boyfriend who was dumped formed the Revolutionary Alliance of Men Whom Women Find Unattractive, a group that marched against “passion-based capitalism.” These poor boys reject the holiday before it can reject them. In the end, though, their unattractiveness may pay off, because on White Day, March 14, all the men who received Valentine’s chocolates are expected to repay every woman with a white-themed gift that is three times the value of the original gift. Maybe being ugly isn’t so bad.
In the mood for love?
Regardless of the country-specific variations, Valentine’s Day is not for everyone. But if you’d like to join in the festivities, here are some survival tips.
DO NOT add your own “secret ingredient”
Do we even have to tell you why this is a bad idea?
DO explore the department store
Shops begin putting out gorgeous, delicious chocolates starting in mid-January.
DO NOT hand-make chocolates for everyone
Your coworkers and friends might mistake it for a romantic gesture!
Illustration by Chieko Watanabe