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Valentine’s Day memories

Adorably packaged Valentine's chocolates on display

In Japan, there is an established tradition of women giving men chocolates on Valentine’s Day. There are two ways that chocolate is given: Honmei-choco is chocolate given to a romantic partner, while Giri-choco (‘obligation chocolate’) is given to friends and coworkers and has no romantic meaning.
On the flipside, unique to Japan is March 14, White Day, in which men who have received chocolates on Valentine’s Day give gifts in return.

This week’s guest post is written by ‘Y.I.’on her past experiences of Valentine’s Day while working at a different, more traditional Japanese company.



Every year when Valentine’s Day approaches, I think about the company I worked for previously. It was a very large company, and so there was a large number of giri-choco given out! I would give more expensive chocolates to coworkers that felt grateful to, etc., and so it was a lot of chocolate.


The men who receive chocolates have it rough too. White Day has become an event in and of itself. Perhaps the men worry about how their gifts are perceived by their recipients (who talk to each other about who gave what kind of gift), because they would give adorably packaged or high-end sweets.

In hindsight, I think the quality of the men’s is proportionally more than the Valentine’s chocolates, and it must have been hard for them… On White Day, women would carry home bags stuffed with gifted sweets.

- Y.I. (Japan), translation by N.M.


I find the incorporation of this Valentine’s tradition in the workplace to be particularly interesting, given how it is unique to Japan.

While I knew that ‘obligation chocolate’ was an established practice, I was surprised to find that chocolate was given in the workplace! At e-Jan, chocolates are given to the men as a (mandatory) organised event by the female employees, with the cost split evenly between the women. This is apparently a little unusual, but this system of mass-chocolate giving is apparently gaining traction.

chocolates packaged to look like the icons in an iPhone
(The humourous packaging of a Valentine’s Day chocolate given in a previous year)

It seems as though the commercialisation of the Valentine’s Day in Japan has led to a sense of obligation; as Y.I. says, because giving chocolate is expected, being obligated to give chocolate to many people may cause financial strain on an individual level. On the other hand, Valentine’s Day is often a romantic holiday for many countries, but Japan has turned it into a social holiday; as a result, perhaps fewer people feel left out of the celebrations, making it less of a grim reminder of one’s romantic prospects (that’s saved for Christmas Eve!).

As 14 February approaches, I look forward to seeing the displays of lavishly packaged chocolates in stores everywhere.

-N.M. (U.S.A)