The Japanese have their own way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. The most common tradition is for Japanese women to give chocolate to men on February 14th. They may also give other gifts, but chocolate is the most common. Women do not only buy chocolate for their boyfriends and husbands, but also for most of their male friends, co-workers, bosses and brothers.
The chocolate that Japanese women give to men they are not romantically involved with “giri choko.” The word “giri” translates as obligatory, and when one party does such a favor, it is expected to be reciprocated. Sometimes women will buy 20 or 30 boxes of chocolate and give them to all the men they associate with at the office or in their social lives.
“Honmei choko” refers to the special chocolate that a woman would give to her lover. The “honmei choko” is typically nicer and more expensive, and women often throw in an extra small present along with it. Japanese people generally do not send Valentine’s cards to each other. Like most places, Valentine’s Day in Japan is a consumer-oriented holiday, and there are advertisements everywhere and red hearts all over retail stores. About a quarter of all chocolate sales per year in Japan take place for Valentine’s Day.
The next holiday like this is March 14, which is White Day. Japanese men who receive these chocolates will then return the favor to the respectful women. Neither of these days are national holidays, but expats living in Japan will likely be involved in this phenomenon.