Valentine’s Day is an entirely different experience in Japan than it is overseas. For starters, February 14th is a day for women to confess their feelings or give chocolates and sweets to the men in their lives. It’s not traditionally a reciprocal holiday by any means, although in recent years, gyaku barentain (reverse Valentine), where men give gifts to their partners or gifts are exchanged between partners, has been picking up as a trendy international thing to do.
There are two main categories of goodies given for Valentine’s. In brief, honmei chocolates are serious ‘I’m interested in you’ treats, while giri chocolates are ones given out of obligation. A third category, tomo chocolates given between friends, is also on the rise. Click the following links for more details about celebrating Valentine’s Day in Japan, and answers to questions about Valentine’s Day that others received last year.
For a lot of women, Japanese and otherwise living in Japan, Valentine’s Day can be depressing. March 14, White Day, isn’t much better—but more on that next month. For now, it will suffice to say that reality does not always live up to expectations.
Don’t Assume Everyone Will Celebrate Valentine’s Day
As with any other holiday, some people celebrate Valentine’s Day and some don’t. Some companies ban celebrating Valentine’s Day during office hours, or entirely. “It’s bad for morale” (French male, 29). “It’s a distraction and inappropriate to force romantic notions on an office setting” (Japanese male, 54).
Regardless of how you feel about the day, if you are at work, listen to what office culture dictates. The last thing you want is to be disciplined or fired over chocolates.
Do Give Valentine’s Chocolates to Those You Care About
If your office encourages or permits people to celebrate Valentine’s Day, then by all means celebrate it. The options are endless in Japan at this time of year. “Plaza and Loft are my two favorite stores at this time of year. There’s so much candy to choose from!” (Japanese woman, 32).
You can gift special things to your friends and/or your crush, but be reasonable and fair in what you do. For example, if you work in a small office, bring something for everyone. In a larger one, maybe buying in bulk (Costco, Hands and Loft are good options) and putting a bowl of communal snacks in a common area is the best option.
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