The sweet scent of chocolate gently permeates the air over the weeks leading to the highly-anticipated day of love, Valentine's Day. The typical concept of this occasion was introduced to Japan as early as the 1950s, with mostly the few expatriates celebrating it. Most Japanese could not relate to this foreign practice, so the occasion was not that popular then. But curiosity ensued.
Beautifully packaged, it is a treat for both the taste-buds and the eyes!
Seeing the increased interest in the "romance festival" of their expat community, several Japanese chocolateries began making Valentine's Day-themed chocolates — this would kick-start the Japanese traditions for Valentine's Day. They launched unique heart-shaped chocolates which were a novelty back then. These delectable sweets on display everywhere were not just adorably attractive, they subtly familiarised the locals with the concept of showing love through gifts. Perhaps triggered by the popularity of the inventive heart-shaped chocolates, the Japanese began introducing more of their own inimitable, creative takes on Valentine’s Day.
Japan traditionally celebrates Valentine’s Day like the rest of the world on the 14th of February, with chocolates being the most popular gift of choice. But there’s a twist. Instead of having the men do the gifting, the women now take charge! This sets Valentine’s Day in Japan apart from the rest of the world as a completely novel experience.
On Valentine's Day in Japan, women make the first move and it’s so easy to do so now, with chocolateries everywhere
Depending on the heart, the gifts of chocolate can be either "giri-choco" or "honmei- choco", a distinguishing concept that’s entirely novel and characteristic of Japanese traditions for Valentine's Day. What exactly are these? Read on to find out!
How chocolate symbolises feelings
The most exciting thing about women giving chocolates is that the delicacies reveal the lady's feelings. If one receives a giri-choco (loosely translated as "obligatory chocolate"), it may mean that the woman who gave it has platonic feelings. It's usually given to male family members, colleagues and even superiors.
However, if a lady gives a honmei-choco, it can indicate an innocent desire to express their appreciative, possibly romantic, love for a deserving male figure in their lives. And that is all there is to it!
Gifting in Japan on Valentine’s Day depends heavily on the intentions and feelings behind them.
Ladies may also devote extra time into dolling up and selecting the perfect setting to profess their feelings of love to her special man with homemade honmei-choco. Any boyfriend or husband at the receiving end of honmei-choco for Valentine’s Day will surely attest to feeling very special and appreciated.
The term ‘honmei’ means ‘one’s heart’s desire’. Therefore, it is only natural that ‘honmei-choco’ shall go to the one man whom the heart wants.
Empowerment through chocolate
It is refreshing to see Japanese women rise above social norms to profess their love using honmei-choco as a modest yet powerful act of female empowerment unique to modern Japanese society. They are, after all, declaring their feelings first and letting themselves be vulnerable. Despite this, it is becoming harder to stomach the irony of "obligatory" chocolate on Valentine’s Day, especially since it is a day devoted to the expression of genuine feeling.
Chocolates on Valentines Day are now being used to send different messages.
Women question the necessity of giving an obligatory giri-choco while men don't experience the same expectation and pressure. And they are beginning to find ways around it. More women are choosing to express other forms of love on Valentine’s Day. Some women are now buying jibun-choco, literally "chocolate for myself" as a form of self-love and gifting "tomo-choco", or "friendship chocolate" to their circle of female friends as a mark of unwavering friendship.
But what about the men? Well, beyond the Japanese traditions for Valentine's Day, they get to practise spreading love on the 14th of March. Called "White Day", it's the day when men gift candies, marshmallows or any small gifts to the ladies. It will be their turn to return the favour! Isn't that sweet?