In most places celebrating Valentine’s Day, women can expect chocolates, flowers and a romantic dinner from their partner. However, in Japan, it’s the opposite: women give chocolates to the men in their lives—from their boyfriends to their coworkers—although not all chocolates are equal.
The special men in their lives receive honmei choco, “true feeling” chocolates, while Taro from accounting only receives giri choco, or “obligatory chocolates.” Guys stuck in the friend zone and even lady pals can also receive tomo-choco, or “friend chocolate.” It isn’t entirely one-sided. In March, the tables are turned and men are expected to reciprocate their feelings with sanbai kaeshi (literally, three-fold reciprocation).
Ever wonder how Valentine’s Day started in Japan or why things are so different compared to the West?
Here’s everything you need to know about Valentine’s Day in Japan.
Beginnings and lost in translation
Like most holidays imported from the West, Valentine’s Day in Japan started as an attempt to encourage excessive spending. Morozoff Ltd., a Kobe-based confectionery company, first used the holiday to attract foreigners in 1936 but didn’t start producing heart-shaped chocolates until 1953. Afterward, stores such as Isetan began promoting Valentine’s sales and the holiday boosted in popularity.
While no one is certain, and we’re sure Japan’s patriarchal leanings played a part, it’s thought that the switch from men giving chocolates to women to the opposite originated from a translation error. Thanks to Valentine’s Day, Japanese candy companies reportedly make half of their annual sales this time of the year.
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