Big celebration in different way: Valentine’s Day culture in Japan


photo by Hideto KOBAYASHI

Wow, January 2019 is nearly ending, and February is almost there. In Japan, there is one more big celebration other than Setsubun. Yes, it is Valentine’s Day. Of course, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many other countries, but it is a little different here in Japan. While Valentine’s Day is recognized as the day to celebrate romantic love between lovers and couples in many countries, a unique Valentine’s Day culture has been created in Japan.


The history of Valentine’s Day

According to the most commonly known legend, the origin of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to the Roman Empire period. Back in the time, Roman soldiers were prohibited from getting married, because the emperor thought marriages would discourage them from battles. Saint Valentine, a Roman priest, had pity for those soldiers, and secretly arranged marriages for them, but was apprehended and executed by the order of the emperor. In later years, the day of his death, 14th February, became a Cristian feast day commemorating Saint Valentine’s benefaction as well as celebrating romantic love between lovers.


Valentine’s Day in Japan

Valentine’s Day celebration was introduced in Japan around 50’s. At the beginning, it did not ground very well in Japanese life style. In 70’s, it started to be widely accepted by the Japanese thanks to promotions by Japanese confectionery companies. However, it has been developed in unique way deviating from its original customs in Western countries.

It’s all about chocolates!

As you can see, shelves in confectionery sections of department stores, supermarkets and convenience stores are totally filled with a variety of chocolates such as fancy truffles, love heart shaped ones and special chocolates for limited season. Chocolates are popular as a Valentine’s Day gift in many other countries, but people would also chose other items such as a book and flowers, depending on their preferences. In Japan, Valentine’s Day gift is always chocolate in Japan.

From women to men

Outside japan, men and women exchange Valentine’s Day presents to celebrate mutual love. In Japan, there is a strange custom only women give chocolate to men to express their love. Some ladies give chocolates to men they fancy to confess their love. For men, on the other hand, Valentine’s Day is the day that they have to face the degree of their own popularity among ladies.


Many Japanese ladies give chocolate called “Giri-Choco” to their male colleagues or friends even though they have no romantic feelings for those men. This custom is carried out only in Japan and has nothing to do with the original custom of Valentine’s Day. The custom to give Giri-Choco started in 80’s after Valentine’s Days became a familiar feast day for the Japanese.

Friendship chocolate

After 2000, a new custom of friendship chocolate was introduced and it is now widely accepted in Japan. This is for female friends to exchange chocolates on Valentine’s Day. There is no romantic love involved with this custom. Girls are giving chocolates to each other just to enjoy eating chocolate. Many girls and women in all ages enjoy exchanging friendship chocolates.


There are many women who purchase some chocolates for themselves when getting chocolate gifts for others. This is totally understandable, as there are so many beautiful chocolates everywhere in the shop. Nowadays, many ladies enjoy gourmet chocolates on Valentine’s Day.


All you need is chocolate!

It sounds like Valentine’s Day in Japan is a day to celebrate love for chocolate. The custom that only women give gifts to men is quite strange, and it happens only in Japan. There are so many Western-originated customs arranged in Japanese way such as Christmas and Halloween. Well, Valentine’s Day is as well customized to fit Japanese culture. This probably seems weird if you are from outside Japan. But let’s see the bright side. There are so many yummy chocolates being displayed everywhere. You just can’t help buying them.





あきらことほ Kotoho Akira

Living outside Japan for a good many years, I often rediscover nice little things about this country every time I return here. I would be more than happy if this column may help you find your "nice little things about Japan"!

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