You are watching your favourite (school life) anime and you come across an episode where it is all about the dreaded yet much-anticipated ‘Valentine’s Day’.
So, what makes this day in Japan to stand out so much… especially to Westerners?
The main reason being……
O n l y F e m a l e s G i v e C h o c o l a t e ! ! ! !
Photo courtesy hako toshokan.
In the West, both men and ladies celebrate Valentine’s Day by showering upon their loved ones with extravagant gifts of flowers, jewelry, heart-shaped chocolates, expensive dinners… Some men even use this romantic opportunity to propose to their partners!
However, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is primarily an opportunity for females to express their love or interest in the males who have caught their fancy. It is the one day that a female is informally socially permitted (by herself and others) to muster the courage and declare (either openly or secretly) the affection she holds (and most likely has held) for a male by presenting a special gift to him.
For a girl who has a special interest in a guy and is not sure about how he may feel about her; Valentine’s Day is not only a special day but it is a day that could be anxiety driven yet very exhilarating and ‘freeing’. It is a day that stands out as a day that could change her life. One could probably argue that for some, it is a rite of passage (so to speak).
Types of Chocolates Given On Valentine’s Day
To avoid making people feel left out on Valentine’s Day (for example, at work ), there are presently four (4) different kinds of chocolates that are given by girls.
The type that is given depends largely upon two main factors:
- It depends strongly upon whom the chocolates are given to and
- The meaning that the chocolate has from the giver to the receiver (the relationship that the giver has to the receiver).
It should be noted that since there are so many different chocolates given on Valentine’s Day; it is important to inform the person of the type of chocolate that is being presented to them. This is to avoid any confusion or awkward circumstances from occurring.
So, what are the four types of chocolate, you ask? Well, let’s get right into it . . . .
Honmei-Chocolate means ‘home-made / favourite chocolate‘ or ‘chocolate of love‘.
It is a romantic chocolate – the kind of chocolate one gives to the one you want to express your love to. These chocolates tend to be of high quality, expensive or are even home-made.
The reason why a lot of honmei- chocolates are home-made is simple: the time and the effort that is undertaken in the making of the chocolates, present ladies with an opportunity to create and give a chocolate that is filled with their love and affection.
This means ‘obligatory / courtesy gift chocolate‘. It refers to the chocolate one has to give to people (usually male) bosses, co-workers, teammates or classmates, etc.. The chocolate is store-bought, not very expensive and there is no special meaning or feelings behind it.
Since it is an obligatory chocolate, rather than purchase a separate box of chocolates for each co-worker; it is perfectly acceptable to bring one nice box of wrapped chocolates to share with your office, class, team, etc..
This is not just an obligatory chocolate … this is a ‘VERY obligatory / courtesy chocolate‘.
These chocolates tend to be very generic and are not expensive. They are normally given to the following people:
- Those with whom they do not know very well
- Those with whom they are indifferent to.
- Those with whom they do not like.
- Those with whom they do not want to give chocolate to.
This type of chocolate is considered as “friend chocolate”. It is a more recent addition to the variety of Japanese Valentine’s Day chocolates.
It refers to the chocolates one gives to one’s female friends.
History And Marketing Of Valentine’s Day In Japan
In 1936, Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan by Morozoff Ltd.( a confectionery and cake company that was founded by the Russian emigrate – Fedor Dmitrievich Morozoff ).
Understanding that only foreigners in Japan would know what Valentine’s Day was; it ran the first ever Valentine’s advertisement campaign (in Japan ) in a publication that was geared towards foreigners.
It was, however, only after World War II did Valentine’s Day start to take a foothold in Japan.
During this period, there was an influx of foreigners and most locals wanted to learn more about Western traditions. Japanese department stores and other manufacturers realized the popularity of Valentine’s Day among foreigners and saw the sales that it garnered for the Morozoff company. They too started advertising Valentine’s Day chocolates … not only to foreigners but to Japanese nationals as well. It was only then did it truly become a phenomenon.
To this day, very prominent displays of heart-shaped chocolates in various sizes, flavours, fillings and packaging can be seen in stores all across Japan. These displays also feature the various tools required for those who wish to make their own honmei-choco.
It should be noted at this point the impact that Valentine’s Day has on chocolate companies in Japan: it provides them with more than half of their annual sales!
But one issue has always been unresolved…
It seems that when Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan, there was a mistake that never got amended: that only women gave chocolate to men. Although there are rumours and speculation ( that it was deliberately done by chocolate makers); how this happened is still not exactly clear.
Despite this error, the nation still actively participates in this event. One could argue that this error has allowed this special day to evolve over the years and be celebrated in a unique way that no other country in the world does it. Japan has successfully created its very own Valentine’s Day.
Foreigners’ Valentine’s Notes
Here are some useful tips for foreigners experiencing Valentine’s Day:
- If in a relationship with a Japanese male, remember that Japanese men are not expected to do anything on Valentine’s Day.
- If in a relationship with a Japanese female, remember that she may not expect you to do anything on this day. She will, however, expect an expensive present one month later, on White Day (a follow-up article on this day will be posted soon ).
- If one wishes to give your Japanese girlfriend | wife a gift for Valentine’s, ensure that the gift is small and does not cost too much. There is a rule of thumb regarding White Day gifts : the gift that is returned to the female on White Day, has to be three times the cost of the Valentine’s Day present that was given by the female. So, to avoid spending too much on both gifts, it is better to wait until White Day to get the more expensive present for the lucky lady in your life.
- Once a foreigner is in a relationship with a Japanese national, it is advised to discuss the cultural differences regarding this event. Mention as well each other’s expectations of the day so as to avoid any awkward situations or misunderstandings that could occur on the day.
- A single foreigner, however, should enjoy the day by giving chocolates to both male and female friends, co-workers, etc.
One Quick Chocolate Recipe
After reading so much about Valentine’s Day and chocolates; it would be awful of me to not leave some sort of recipe that could maybe be of some help to someone who may be in a pinch.
This may not be the classic home-made chocolate, but it is quick and very versatile.
Ingredients / Utensils
- Chocolate of your choice
- A microwave (or stove top)
- A chocolate/ice mold
- A microwave safe bowl (or pot, if you are using the stove top)
- Parchment paper
- Baking Sheet pan
- Whole strawberries – with leaves and stem, washed and dried
- Toppings of your choice – nuts, sprinkles, cocoa powder, cake decorations, shredded coconut, dried fruit, etc.
- To melt the chocolate, put it in a microwave bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir the chocolate for about a minute.
- Return to the microwave and repeat this process two more times ( 30 seconds, remove and stir for one minute ).
- As soon as the chocolate is completely melted, start pouring most of the chocolate into the molds – reserving some chocolate for the strawberries.
- Once the chocolate is in the mold, toppings can be added. But it is perfectly normal to not add toppings.
- Place the chocolate in the refrigerator for at least twenty minutes or until the chocolate hardens.When ready to distribute, simply pop the chocolate from the molds, place in pretty cupcake paper or wrap with coloured foil
- With the strawberries, place parchment paper over a sheet pan.
- While holding the top of the strawberry by its stem / leaves, gently dip it into the melted chocolate. Remove and hold above chocolate mixture to let the excess drain into the bowl.
- Place on parchment paper and gently push the strawberry forward to prevent any excess chocolate from collecting around the strawberry. Repeat until chocolate and strawberries are finished.
- Toppings could also be added to this point, but it could also be left plain.
- Place sheet pan in the refrigerator for at least twenty minutes to set. Strawberries should be kept in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve chilled to guests within 24 hours of making it.
Thank you for reading this article and I hope that it was informative, enjoyable and fun !