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The World's Surprise! Japanese Style Valentine's Day


How did the custom of women gifting chocolates to men begin in Japan?  Konnichiwa from the Japan Culinary Institute (JCI) in Japan! Thank you for reaching us to those interested in learning about Japanese cuisine, culture, and Washoku! It's already February this year and speaking of February, there's an upcoming event that's got our attention! Valentine's Day, or "Lovers' Day," is a regular February 14. In Japan, "chocolates" are sold here and there in the streets in February, and a Valentine's Day business battle unfolds. At this time of the year, it's the women who are shopping for chocolates! Yes, Valentine's Day in Japan is a day for women to give chocolates to men and confess their love. How did this Japanese style of Valentine's Day come into existence and take root?  And why did we start giving chocolates?  Through the Japanese Valentine's Day context, you can get a glimpse into the mindset of today's Japanese and the Japanese culture in reality! Table of Contents 1. How did "Japanese Valentine's Day" come about? 2. The unique evolution of Valentine's Day in Japan 3. The trend of chocolate in Japan  4. Summary


1. How did "Japanese Valentine's Day" come about?

↑ Valentine's Day Changes from Place to Place? We know that Valentine's Day is a Western custom based initially on a Christian anecdote. On Valentine's Day in Europe and the United States, lovers, couples, and families usually give each other gifts to express their gratitude and love. Also, chocolates are not the primary and standard gift, but rather gifts such as message cards, bouquets, jewelry, etc., and chocolates are just an accessory. We will now explain when and how Japan's original Valentine's Day custom of women giving chocolates to men began. There are many stories, but it is known that Morozov, a confectionery company in Kobe (named after the Russian co-owner), introduced the "giving chocolates on Valentine's Day" style for the first time in Japan in 1932. The following year, Morozov's advertisement for chocolates for Valentine's Day appeared in an English-language newspaper for foreigners (photo below).

←Classic advertisement reminiscent of those days (Photo provided by Morozov Corporation) On the other hand, it was not until the 1960s that the "women give gifts to men=confess her love to a men" method took root. In 1959, chocolate manufacturer Merry released heart-shaped chocolates, which attracted a lot of attention and increased the awareness of Valentine's Day. In Japan, it is rare for a woman to take the initiative to confess her love to a man. Therefore, the catch copy, "Once a year, a woman can confess her love to a man," captured the hearts of women at the time. The reason is that Japanese people are very shy compared to people in the West. Nowadays, it is not unusual for a woman to confess her love to a man. Still, at that time, it took a lot of courage for a woman to confess her love to a man. So, the "Valentine's Day strategy" was a perfect way to encourage women to confess their love.

↑ 2022 Valentine's Day products from Morozov, the pioneer of Valentine's Day in Japan Since then, many confectionery companies have promoted the "chocolate on Valentine's Day" sales strategy. By the 1970s, it had spread from teenagers to adult women. In this way, Japanese Valentine's Day was created by the distribution and candy industries, which wanted to promote sales by incorporating new Valentine's Day customs from overseas into Japan. In addition, you can say that the unique Valentine's Day culture has grown up because of Japan's lack of religious ties.


2. The unique evolution of Valentine's Day in Japan

Furthermore, as Valentine's Day became more and more popular, the Japanese created different Valentine's Day chocolates(and names for them) in Japan around the 1980s. The relationship between the giver and receiver determines the name and its status! In Japan, as Valentine's Day approaches, conversations such as "I'm going to make my chocolate," "How much do I have to spend on giri-choko(=chocolate)?", "I lined up for my gohobi(self-rewarding)-choko!" Honmei-choko Chocolate given by a woman to a man as a confession of love. Or chocolate given by a woman to her lover (or husband and wife). Honmei" means "true target." Giri-choko Chocolates given to a friend or a man at work as a ritualistic gift, even though there is no romantic interest. It rapidly became popular due to the economic boom known as the bubble economy in 1980. Recently, it has been decreasing due to the increase of telework due to corona disasters and the growing awareness of compliance in the workplace. Tomo(friend)-choko Chocolates given between people of the same sex (mainly women). The popularity of Tomo choko has increased since 2000. Gohobi(Reward)-choko Chocolates that you buy and enjoy for yourself. It is a recent trend to buy and enjoy a little expensive chocolate as a reward for your daily hard work. Do you agree that the fact that the name of the chocolate changes depending on the recipient is proof of the meticulous attention to detail that only the Japanese can give? Don't you think it shows a playful sense of fun to change the name of the chocolate?

3. The trend of chocolate in Japan 

↑This year's chocolates feature yuzu citrus and the trendy pistachio! As for the trend of chocolates in Japan, chocolates that " catch the eye on SNS" are still a hot topic. This trend is especially noticeable among teenagers and women in their 20s, who place importance on being fashionable and photogenic. Truffles made to look like jewels, those shaped like popular characters, packages with cute designs that can be used as accessory cases after eating, and limited edition decorative tins are also popular. Matcha (green tea), hojicha (roasted tea), sake, plum wine, yuzu (citrus fruit), and sesame flavored chocolates made by long-established ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants) and teahouses are popular among sophisticated women.

↑ Merry's "TSUWAMONO" chocolate with the theme of samurai heroes. The ink painting on the package is also beautiful! (www.mary.co.jp)

↑ Matcha Chocolate has a bright green color and a refreshing bitterness that matches the chocolate

↑ Anko(sweet red bean paste) x chocolate! This coated chocolate dorayaki is a sweet tooth's delight! This trend of people becoming more health-conscious is also reflected in chocolate. In particular, an increasing number of people are buying chocolates made from high cacao (70% cacao or higher), which contains high levels of cacao polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant. Also, "Bean to Bar" chocolates, in which the entire process from cacao bean to chocolate is also getting attention.

↑ More and more "Bean to Bar" stores are opening in Japan, with carefully selected ingredients

↑ With the influence of COVID19, more couples are likely to spend Valentine's Day at home.



4. Summary

Are you surprised to learn that women give different kinds of chocolates to different people?


In Japan, about 20% of the annual consumption of chocolate is dedicated to Valentine's Day. Although Valentine's Day in Japan was born from promoting chocolate sales, it is still a romantic and memorable day. One month after Valentine's Day, on March 14, there is also "White Day," when men give gifts to women in return. In March, men can be seen scrambling to buy cookies, candies, macaroons, and other gifts.


In this article, we focused on chocolate to bring you an overview of the sweets situation in Japan. Still, more and more people are interested in learning about healthy and photogenic Japanese sweets.

What are the Japanese sweets you are interested in?

Of course, there are traditional Japanese sweets. Still, many beautiful sweets in Japan are created through the collaboration of Japanese and Western styles, such as the ones introduced here.

At JCI, you can learn to make the sweets you want to make or try.

Why don't you try to make your own unique sweets in Japan?


For more information about JCI's wagashi course, click the link below!