Celebrate Valentine’s Day the Japanese Way

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, so does the prospect of spending a day with those that matter most to you. Whether you’ve been together for years, only just starting out or trying to catch the attention of that soon-to-be special someone, we all know how Valentine’s works here in the West. But does it work the same way in Japan? Read on and find out how Valentine’s Day in Japan is actually a lot more complicated than you might think.

Valentine’s Day is only one side of the story

Here in the West, Valentine’s Day is very much a day in which chocolates and gifts are given both ways, lasting just the one day of the 14th. However, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is traditionally a day in which chocolates are given exclusively to men from their female friends, partners and colleagues.

For men to reciprocate either the favour or romantic gesture, White Day comes exactly a month after Valentine’s on March 14 and is a day set aside for men to give back. And give back they do as the Japanese phrase ‘sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し)’ is used as a way to force men to give back a present that is three times the original gift’s worth.

Not all chocolates are made equal

In order to begin to understand how the people of Japan navigate Valentine’s Day, you have to first understand the multiple types of Valentine’s chocolate: tomo, giri, honmei and gyaku. So what are the differences?

Tomo Chocolates (友チョコ)

The easiest to understand, tomo-choco (friend chocolates), are given to friends that you want to thank for being in your life. Usually cheaper in price, they’re a little thank you to those who have been there for you no matter what.

Giri Chocolates (義理チョコ)

Giri chocolates are given to those you’re not romantically interested in. Giri-choco, meaning obligation chocolates, are meant to be given to friends, colleagues and bosses as a way to say thank you for their continued support. Similar to tomo-choco, they’re cheaper in price and quality and come in plain packaging to make sure there’s no misunderstanding on the recipient’s end – perfect to avoid those awkward encounters at work, school or in general.

Honmei Chocolates (本命チョコ)

Honmei chocolates are the bread and butter of a Japanese Valentine’s Day. Given only to those you are romantically interested in, they usually come in flashier packaging with the most expensive options even containing accessories. To get the attention of that soon-to-be special someone, some even handmake their chocolate into shapes like hearts for that extra special touch.

Gyaku Chocolates (逆チョコ)

Gyaku chocolates break the mould of tradition as in their case, it’s actually the man who gives the woman chocolate on Valentine’s Day. While this might not sound like that much of a big deal to us, in Japan it’s seen as not only a new concept, but it has also become somewhat fashionable for a girl’s partner to gift them on Valentine’s Day. Of course, the roles are reversed on March 14 too with women giving back on White Day rather than men.

Chocolates, treats and more!

While the go-to gift for Valentine’s participants might be chocolate, there has been a growing trend in Japan for partners to gift items on top of their chocolate treats – which may not be all that weird to us here in the West. From gifts like electronic hand warmers to engraved picture frames, Valentine’s Day in Japan has one main theme in common with the rest of the world – it’s a day to say thank you to those who matter most!

Useful Valentine’s vocabulary

Going to be in Japan over Valentine’s day? Or is there a Japanese special someone who you’re hoping will be your Valentine this year? Our friends at International House London have shared these handy phrases with us to help us speak the language of love!

  • Valentine’s Day   
    • バレンタインデー (Barentaindē)
  • Girlfriend 
    • かのじょ (Kanojo)
  • Boyfriend   
    • かれし (Kareshi)
  • I love you 
    • あなたがすきです (Anata ga suki desu)
  • You’re pretty 
    • あなたは ​きれいですね (Anata wa kirei desu)
  • You’re handsome 
    • あなたは かっこいいですね​ (Anata wa kakkoii desune)
  • What’s your phone number? 
    • あなたの でんわばんごうは なんですか (Anata no denwabangou wa nan desuka​​)
  • Will you go on a date with me? 
    • デートしてくれますか (Dēto shitekuremasuka
  • Will you go to a restaurant with me?  
    • いっしょに  レストランに いきましょう (Issho ni resutoran ni ikimashou
  • Will you go to the movies with me? 
    • いっしょに えいが にいきましょう (Issho ni eiga ni ikimashou)
  • I have a present for you   
    • あなたに プレゼント が あります​ (Anata ni purezento ga arimasu)

International House London is a prestigious language school located near Covent Garden and is currently ranked by the British Council among the top 1% of language schools in the UK. Japanese is one of the school’s most popular language programmes, and classes are offered from beginners right the way to advanced. Whether students are looking for an intensive course, or an introductory programme to prepare them for a holiday in Japan, International House London has a wide range of courses to suit all. All classes have a communicative approach, designed to get students using and feeling comfortable with the language right away. 

Find out more at ihlondon.com/japanese

Shop for Valentine’s Day treats at one of our London stores, or online at japancentre.com. Our online recipe section is packed full of tasty sweet and savoury recipe ideas for all seasons and occasions!