Japan has a tendency of celebrating holidays differently from the rest of the world and Valentine’s Day is no different! Whether you’re taking the holiday to celebrate with your special someone, spending some time to treat yourself, or enjoying your time with your friends, Japan has a way to make it one of the most memorable times of the year!
Around the middle of January, you will start seeing Valentine’s Day posters, flyers, advertisements everywhere in Japan. In shopping malls, shops, and even convenient stores, you will see all types of Valentine’s chocolate you can buy.
Massive Valentine’s signs, pink colours and red hearts everywhere, you can see Valentine’s Day spirits everywhere, as if telling you to buy your chocolate now so your loved ones know that you’re thinking of them.
We are going to break down what Valentine’s Day and White Day (we will explain) are, what you should expect, as well as some of our favourite date ideas during this time of the year!
Why do women give men chocolate for Valentine’s Day in Japan?
I’m sure everyone has figured out that Valentine’s etiquette is a bit different in Japan than the rest of the world. Instead of giving and taking, it’s a one-way street where women give presents to the men in their lives, where men are on the receiving end on this special day.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day or White Day, most Japanese people either gift store-bought chocolate or their own home-made chocolate. Instead of giving gifts and presents to just one special someone, most Japanese women actually give presents to every man in their lives.
It is very common for students to give Valentine’s Day presents to all of our male classmates, and in workplaces, women give Valentine’s Day presents to all of their male coworkers. Most of these chocolate gifts are not huge or come in big portions but generally very beautifully gift wrapped.
Why in Japan, women are the ones giving men chocolate and women don’t receive anything on Valentine’s Day? We will have to look back in the 1900s.
In 1936, one of the first-ever huge advertisements for Valentine’s Day present was released by a western snacks shop, advertising that chocolate presents should be given to both male and female. In 1958, under the influence of the feminist activities in the United States at the time, Japan had a boom of women speaking up about their love and feelings. During the time, one of the most renowned department stores in Japan, Isetan, proposed a Valentine Day’s Campaign for women to buy gifts for men. In the 1970s, Chocolate & Cocoa Association of Japan decided to make February 14th the day of the chocolate and since then, chocolate has become the prominent symbol of Valentine’s Day.
Different meanings behind the chocolate
The two main types of Valentine’s chocolate, “Honmei-choco” and “Giri-choco” and recently, there are also “Fami-choco”, “Tomo-choco” and “My-choco”.
“Honmei” means “True love” and “Honmei-choco” is chocolate given to that special someone in your life. Around the 1970s, chocolate was widely represented as a symbol of love. It was extremely common for elementary and middle school students to express their “love” by gifting chocolate to their crush.
“Giri-choco” means “courtesy chocolate”. This chocolate represents the care and appreciation between classmates, co-workers and other people that have taken care of you in your everyday lives. It is widely believed that presenting small gifts such as chocolate shows that you’re thinking about the other person and look forward to growing your relationship in the future.
“Fami” stands for “Family” and it is chocolate that is given to your family members, to show your love. Most of the chocolate given to family members tend to be chocolate that you wouldn’t consume normally or special home-made chocolate that you have spent time making.
“Tomo” is short for “Tomodachi”, which means friends. This is the chocolate that you give to your friends to show them your love and care. It is common for friends to make home-made chocolate together for Valentine’s Day.
“My” is from English and it represents the chocolate that you give yourself. It is the day when you take some time to show your love to yourself and possibly consume the chocolate that you have always wanted but hadn’t had a chance to have.
Chocolate is the most common and popular gift to give people and of course, there are people that celebrate with gifting other things on this festive day. Many people also celebrate Valentine’s Day by spending time together and doing fun activities. We have mentioned some of our favourite things to do down below!
Just when you think February is finished and all the heart-shaped confectionery and love festivities are done with, think again. White day, the counter holiday to Valentine’s day that only occurs in three countries around the world has arrived.
So what exactly is White Day?
Well, it wasn’t long until the women started to feel left out and a new holiday was born, although primarily for commercial reasons, White Day came about when an executive from a confectionary shop read a letter written by a woman, saying she’d appreciate getting some gifts as well. This is why a month after Valentine’s day, on March 14th, men are expected to return gifts to those women from Valentine’s with a gift that’s at least twice as much the value.
The popularity of these customs is slowly diminishing in this modern age and there are a few reasons for that which could be the Westernization of the holidays or that people don’t want to contribute to these highly commercialized holidays. However, an interesting point for the Japanese system of Valentines comes up when you realize that White Day is seen as the “answer day”.
If you think about the fact that Japanese people are a bit shy when it comes to showing emotions, maybe these holidays are an opportunity for people to get some assurance about your crushes feelings before diving in and getting your emotions hurt. After all, no one likes rejection.
For some romantic, relaxing and fun activities, here are some of our favourite activities and places to celebrate this special occasion:
Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan, with an observatory deck overlooking Tokyo. Not just the observatory deck but there are many fun activities within the building you can explore as well as delicious restaurants and an aquarium you can enjoy in Skytree.
During Valentine’s period, Skytree offers a range of fun and unique limited edition activities:, and here is a quick summary of all of them:
- Valentine’s Day chocolate collection
- Outdoor ice skating rink, lit up by illumination at night
- Strawberry festival with countless strawberry themed desserts
- “Snow and Jellyfish” theme at the aquarium
- Special Event, “Love Under The Stars”, at their planetarium
2. Teamlab Borderless
Teamlab Borderless is fun to visit all year round, but it is one of those interactive and artistic activities that is perfect for you to unleash your creative minds, sit back and relax with your loved ones. They don’t have any special Valentine’s themed activities, but honestly, it is romantic and fun the way it is.
4. Sunshine City
Sunshine City is a famous department store in Ikebukuro. It has countless local and international shops and during this Valentine’s season, they are putting together Valentine’s market, selling all kinds of cute and adorable items. You can also visit their observatory, viewing Tokyo from up high.
At the planetarium in Sunshine City, they have a special event, called “Manten”, which means “Filled in the sky”. You can sit back at one of their special cloud-like coaches or lie down at one of their comfy mats and watch the projection of a gorgeous starry sky.
5. Exhibition: Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life – How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow
This is probably one of my favourite exhibitions that I have ever been to. If like me, you are curious about robots and AI, wondering how humans will probably live in the upcoming years, alongside robots, you will enjoy this exhibition. Without giving away too much, the title of this exhibition gives you a good idea of what to expect and the content will definitely stark some interesting conversations!
Eating out is probably one of the best ways to express your love to someone during this Valentine’s season. For some of our favourite romantic date spots in Tokyo, check out our blog, Romantic Spots to impress your date in Tokyo, for this special occasion!
Valentine’s Day is an amazing time to express your love and affection for others, but don’t forget to take a minute to appreciate yourself and treat yourself. At the end of the day, the most important factor to celebrate and be grateful for in your life, is you.