Posted by TOKYO MATCHA SELECTION - Chris Young (living in UK) on February 02, 2018
With February just around the corner, the worldwide search for Valentine's Day gifts is underway. As a Japanese tea enthusiast, have you ever wondered how Valentine's Day is celebrated in Japan? As you will discover in this post, Japan has some unique traditions and even some special vocabulary for this time of year. Read on to learn more about Valentine's Day in Japan, including the meaning of giri-choko and honmei-choko - and perhaps find some unique gift ideas!
Valentine's Chocolates - for Him or Her?
Valentine's Day in Japan is primarily a day for giving chocolate. Non-edible gifts are curiously rare. Even more curiously, the transfer of confectionery is a one-way street. Girls give and boys receive. If you're a popular guy with a sweet tooth, Valentine's Day might be your favourite day of the year.
Nobody knows exactly how this one-sided interpretation of Valentine's Day came about. Of course, it was not too long before some Japanese confectioners, seeing a chance to double their profits, decided to even the balance. They did this by inventing a new holiday: White Day.
Valentine's Day and White Day
Japan's National Confectionery Industry Association (全国飴菓子工業協同組合) started promoting March 14th as White Day in the late 1970s. Since then, Japanese men have used this day as an opportunity to respond in kind to their Valentine's Day gifts. In the month between Valentine's Day and White Day, plenty of suitable gift ideas are helpfully marketed to them.
Where did the name 'White Day' come from? The answer is quite simple. Originally, men were encouraged to show their affection with white chocolate on March 14th. Did Japanese women prefer this, or were the sweet shops just trying to even out their sales? Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Today, all kinds of sweet gifts are acceptable, but the term 'White Day' has stuck. The tradition has even spread to other countries in Asia, including China and South Korea.
Giri-Choko or Honmei-Choko?
In Japan, gifts given on February 14th and March 14th do not have to signal genuine romantic intent. The resulting ambiguity has given rise to two interesting words: giri-choko (義理チョコ) or 'obligation chocolate' and honmei-choko (本命チョコ) or 'true feeling chocolate'.
Giri-choko, as the name suggests, is given mainly out of gratitude and politeness. For example, a woman might distribute giri-choko to her closest male colleagues on Valentine's Day. She will likely receive something in return a month later, again with no romantic implications. Giri-choko may be deployed tactically. A boy who distinguishes himself with his White Day generosity one year might receive a deluge of Valentine's chocolate from his female classmates the next.
Honmei-choko, however, is the real deal. Even if you exchange giri-choko with many people, your 'true feeling chocolate' is reserved for that one special someone. Since Valentine's Day and White Day come around just once a year, honmei-choko can be as extravagant as your feelings.
Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from TOKYO MATCHA SELECTION
Perhaps you know somebody who would love a Japanese-themed gift this Valentine's Day? Our selection of Japanese confectionery now includes some beautifully presented wasanbon sweets. Wasanbon is a special kind of hand-crafted sugar which is traditionally used for tea sweets.
Lastly, if couples traditionally exchange gifts on February 14th where you live, please do not use White Day as an excuse to forget!
For our full range of food and confectionery, please follow the link below.
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