How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Japan

How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: Chocolate-covered cake balls with hearts

It’s February 14th in Japan. You’re excited because you expect to get a large box of chocolate and flowers from your boyfriend/husband because—of course— it’s Valentine’s Day. You’ve already prepared a little something special for him that you know he’ll like. You meet up, full of excitement and expectations, and give him your gift.

But, wait. Where’s yours?

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is for the boys. For anime and manga-style anime confessions, homemade chocolate and obligations from girls. That’s right, in Japan women do the giving while men do the receiving. About a month before February, you can see Daisos and other dollar-store gearing up for Valentine’s Day by marketing baking supplies, decorations, and cards. Whatever you need to show your appreciation and love on the holiday—Daiso’s got your back.

Now that you’ve got the supplies, here’s a breakdown on how to celebrate Valentine’s day in Japan like the locals.

First, what kind of chocolate are you making? There are a few types of chocolate for that special red-hot holiday: honmei-choco (本命チョコ), giri-choco (義理チョコ), tomo-choco (友チョコ), and self-choco (セルフチョコ/自分チョコ). While tomo-choco and self choco are the most casual chocolates to give or receive. Perhaps, other than getting chocolate for yourself, the most important chocolates on Valentine’s Day is honmei-choco and giri-choco.

How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: Cake Balls
How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: Cake Balls

Honmei-choco, is the chocolate you give to someone you like. It’s the stuff that makes Valentine’s Day Valentine’s Day. Usually, women in Japan make their confession or feeling chocolate by-hand. 手作り (tezukuri) chocolate is supposed to show your efforts and how much you like the person. If you give chocolate to someone that you like, especially as a means of confession, make sure it’s clear that it’s honmei chocolate. If you are receiving chocolate, be sure to figure out what kind of chocolate you are getting, because misunderstands can make or break your relationship with a person.

How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: Melting Chocolate
How to Celebrate Valentine's Day in Japan:Chocolate-covered cake balls with hearts

Giri-choco, or obligation chocolate, is for the office. It’s where women can show their charm and favor by buying expensive chocolate for the men in the office. Women usually spend a considerable amount of money on giri-choco because it has become such an important office tradition and societal expectation.

This year, like every year, I participated in this giri-choco craziness by making cake-pops and cake balls for the whole office (women included) of the school that I worked at. Last year, I made chocolate brownies for the men only, but I thought I’d shake things up American-style this year. While I had made my obligation sweets, each grade-year’s female staff and teachers pooled money together to buy every man in the office a box of expensive and high-quality chocolate. They even bought my male ALT coworker a nice box of chocolate!

Every Valentine’s Day, we wait until the school day has ended to hand out the chocolate treats so that the students don’t take notice of the festivities, but giri-choco is taken quite seriously in secretive hushed tones around the refrigerator, so it’s hard not to notice that it’s that time of the year. As the women gave out the chocolate, you could hear the men sigh because they knew it’d be their turn soon, too.

How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: cake pops with hearts
How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: cake pops with pink bows
How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: Cake Pops Wraped in Plastic

White Day
So, when is it their turn to give chocolate, you ask. When can women get those romantic gifts and chocolate? A month later, White Day, is for men to give back twice or thrice more to the women they love. Of course, if they receive giri-choco, or obligation chocolate, they are expected to give in return, but the real kicker, the honmei or real-feelings chocolate, is what’s most important for the reverse holiday of love. White Day, every March 14th, was originally started by a marshmallow company attempting to capitalize on the market that companies had left out on Valentine’s Day—women.

Now, men are expected to give their girlfriends and those kind female co-workers chocolate in return. Years ago, marshmallows and white chocolate were the primary gifts on White Day, but just like Valentine’s Day, the sophistication of gift-giving has evolved. Last year, I only received nice chocolate in return from three men in the office (the vice principle, the grounds keeper and another teacher), so I usually expect either the same or none at all! I do it for the fun of it all, anyway. 🤷🏾‍♀️

Did you give/receive chocolate on Valentine’s Day? Will you give/get chocolate on White Day? What do you think about this whole Valentine’s Day-White Day tradition in Japan?

Note: Valentine’s Day and White Day traditions in Japan are quite heteronormative, but anyone and any type of relationship can participate in Japan’s chocolate traditions!

Want the Recipe?

Pink Vanilla Cake Pops

Serves 45

Cake Ingredients
1 cup White Sugar
1/2 cup Butter
2 Eggs
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cup Medium Strength Flour (中力小麦粉)
1 3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 cup Heavy (Whipping) Cream
2 tsp Red Food Coloring (Optional)

Buttercream Ingredients
1/2 cup Salted Butter, softened
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
2 tbsp Heavy (Whipping Cream)

Chocolate Coating
16oz Dark or Bitter Chocolate
8 tsp Shortening

How to Celebrate Valentine's in Japan: Cake Pops
1. Follow the recipe directions for the Simple White Cake on Allrecipes. Add the red food coloring for the pink coloring inside.
2. Follow the recipe directions for the Quick and Almost-Professional Buttercream Icing on AllRecipes. Do not add the optional food coloring.
*For both recipes, follow the ingredients listed here instead.
3. Crumble the room-temperature cake in a large mixing bowl. Add the buttercream icing and mix together with a soft spatula or your hands. After the cake and buttercream are fully mixed. Form the mixture into small balls. Place the formed mixture in the fridge overnight or in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes.
4. While the cake balls are stiffening, melt the chocolate in a small pot on medium heat. Use a 1/2 tsp of shortening for every once of chocolate. After the chocolate is softened, turn off the heat and stir to continue melting the chocolate.
5. After taking the cake balls out of the fridge or freezer, prepare the cake pop sticks. Dip one end of the stick into the melted chocolate and insert it about half-way into the cake ball. Dip the cake pop in the chocolate. Make sure that the cake pops stay standing stem-down after dipping by using a Styrofoam block as a holder.
6. Add optional decorations to the dipped cake pops before the chocolate finishes setting.

Have any questions or comments about how to celebrate Valentine’s day in Japan or about White Day? Drop a comment down below!

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