Learn about how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Japan and some ways to make it sweeter than ever in this blog post.
Happy Valentine’s Day
February 14th (which falls on a Saturday this year) is Valentine’s Day, a day that has been re-invented throughout the ages and cultures. It started as an ancient Roman fertility festival with rites that are nothing less than gruesome by modern standards, then transformed into a lesser Christian holiday in the 5th century before slowly morphing into the dreamy romantic holiday that involves a lot of chocolates as we know it today in western countries.
Valentine’s Day in Japan
This romantic day is not only extremely popular in the West, but also in southeast Asian countries like Japan and South Korea. However the traditions that have formed are quite different from the West and they keep changing with the rise of egalitarianism.
In the 1950s, department stores in Japan started selling fancy chocolates for Valentine’s Day, which had been a relatively unknown event in Japan before that time. Since then the tradition emerged that women give chocolate as a present to men on that day. But it’s not just for romantic partners and crushes. A gift called giri choko (obligation chocolate) is given to male coworkers and relatives.
The honmei choko (favorite’s chocolate) is usually a more fancy or elaborate kind of chocolate which women give to their partner or crush on Valentine’s Day. A high school girl confessing her love to her crush by giving him handmade chocolates on Valentine’s day is a very common trope in Japanese pop culture and media.
The whole situation might look pretty unfair or even misogynistic to people unfamiliar with Japanese culture, since it is generally only women who give presents to men on Valentine’s Day in Japan. On second glance, though it is at least not quite as bad as it seems. March 14th is White Day, where the gentlemen are expected to return the favor with white chocolate or another white-colored sweet. The price of said sweets are, as if this whole thing was not complicated and problematic enough already, an indicator of how much the love is reciprocated.
The Times Are A-Changing
Valentine’s Day has moved a few steps away from its gender stereotyped past in other ways too. Nowadays a third type of gift-giving has emerged, called tomo choko (friend chocolate), where people give sweets and presents to their friends irrespective of gender. It is also not unheard of to buy Valentine’s chocolates only for yourself, not gifting any at all.
Valentine’s Day: 2021 Edition
This year it is probably a good idea to stay inside for Valentine’s Day. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fun time. If you want to recreate a positive Japanese Valentine’s Day experience at home with your partner or or yourself(and being female is not a requirement here), why not make a classic Valentine’s chocolate treat. You can eat all on your own, share it with your friends, give to your partner, or use them to confess your love (just don’t feed chocolate to your pets, please, no matter how much you love them).
So called nama choko, are ganache bites which can be easily made at home with common ingredients. It mainly consists of two parts of dark chocolate and one part whipping cream which is warmed up and mixed together. Additional flavorings like liquor can be added at this stage. After the mix has cooled down it is dusted with baking cocoa for decoration and easier handling. A basic recipe with video instructions can be found here: https://www.justonecookbook.com/nama-chocolate/
We wish you a happy Valentine’s Day with as much or as little chocolate as you like and we hope you can spend the day with someone you love, romantically, platonically, or in any other way. There are many ways to love and many kinds of love too, and Valentine’s Day can be a great day to celebrate all of them.
If you’re looking for a fun outdoor activity as a Valentine’s Day date idea, we suggest our outdoor scavenger hunt game, Nazotabi. Click here for more info!