Valentine’s Day, that crazy time of the year when men around to world rush to department stores and chocolatiers to find that one piece of sweet their (prospective) girlfriend or wife will adore. In Japan, this time appears even crazier because it is not the men but the women who go off to buy chocolate for their partner, as well as for their male friends and co-workers too!
It all began around 1936 when Valentine’s Day was introduced in Japan by the confectionery company Mozoroff and gained popularity over time. There was, however, one small error in the translation of Mozoroff’s advertising campaign: it portrayed the holiday as a time for a woman to express her love to a (prospective) male partner. Since the error was never corrected to avoid making a fuss about it all, Japan is left with a very unique tradition of this global holiday.
True-love-choco and the choco-obligation
The true-love-choco, or hon-mei, is like in most places around the world intended for your true love. Some Japanese like to go a step further than just buying department store chocolates in a plain package by using elaborate wrappings, and some even elect to make personalized chocolates themselves. Others tend to believe that for your true love you should make everything yourself, including the chocolate, and it is therefore hardly surprising that in the month February stores are filled with a wide variety of melting chocolate, cooking tools, wrappings and everything else a girl could dream of to make the perfect hon-mei.
While the hon-mei is meant for one’s true love the so-called giri-choco, or obligation chocolate, is meant for one’s friends, co-workers and superiors. Of course one is not expected to give chocolate to every single co-worker in the building, but rather within a certain unwritten “desk-radius”.
The great thing about shopping during this time of the year is to go around the various department stores in search of some unique chocolates from around the world, which are only sold in Japan for Valentine and might not even appear back home. Good chocolate is still quite a luxury in Japan and finding it for a cheapo price is rare, but come Feb 14th Belgian, Swiss and French patisseries do their utmost to bring you some of their finest delights.
1=3, White Day
Now that all the men have had their share of the chocolate delight, the 14th of March, known as White Day, is when it is time for them to step up to the plate. Since it was a bit unfair for only women to give chocolate to men the industry came up with White Day as the day for men to do their duty and give their appreciation for all the hon-mei and giri-choco they received the month before. To make it even more challenging they also introduced the principle that a man has to give three times the value the woman spent in return to show their gratitude. In the days approaching the 14th, or well as men everywhere uphold this fine tradition of last-minute gift purchasing, on the 14th you will see plenty of salarymen dazing off into the department stores to fulfill their duty. If you’re a male affected by the three-fold rule for White Day, my cheapo tip is to stock up on the chocolates that are immensely discounted on Feb 15th. Go for the package sweets that won’t spoil by the time March 14th comes around.
Beyond the choco-rush
Putting all this craziness aside, let us look into what you can think of doing for your special someone apart from buying chocolates while you are in Japan. As for most places around the world premium hotels, such as The Peninsula Hotels, Ritz-Carlton and the Shangri-La Hotels, offer Valentine packages including a variety of services such as chocolates, champagne, roses, wellness experiences and romantic dinners. For our younger readers, or those young-of-heart, Tokyo Disneyland features the show “Valentine Nights” with all its characters. Last year the theme park’s special plan included pair tickets for the show, two-day pass to the park, a special dinner and a choice of lodging at one of the official Disney hotels. Another small spectacle is Tokyo’s Skytree transforming into a colossal chocolatebox for the entire city to admire.
In the end you have to admit, making Valentine’s Day special for your love is a much greater reward than just eating chocolate. Although in all honesty doing both does not hurt either!