Valentine’s Day in Japan Shifts Momentum

February 14th is Valentine’s Day, when couples express their love for each other. The tradition dates back to the Roman times, but was first introduced to Japan in 1936 through an advertisement by Kobe Morozoff Confectionary (currently Morozoff Ltd). An English newspaper The Japan Advertiser published the ad which featured the tagline “Send chocolates to your Valentine”.

The English newspaper however, targeted foreigners living in Japan. After the war, department stores and confectionary companies started promoting Valentine’s Day in different ways, but it is only in the late 1970s that the current custom of women giving chocolates to men became popular.

In the 1980s, the custom was popular among everyone from elementary school to university students and onwards. Regardless of their gender, those who were in their adolescence years during the 1980s to the 1990s, remember February 14th as one of the most special days of the year. Leather accessories, scarves and clothing were given as gifts along with chocolates, and Valentine’s Day became a selling season similar to the holidays where departments stores and retail facilities would try to outdo each other with special events.

The popularity of Valentine’s Day however, declined from the late 1990s. Many felt it was too much of a burden to send giri-choco or obligatory chocolates to people as a sign of appreciation, or to return the gesture on March 14th known as White Day. In addition, the widespread of cell phones and social media provided an ease in communication, and therefore Valentine’s Day became less of ‘a once in a year opportunity’ for people to express their true feelings to loved ones.

Even so, 20% of Japan’s annual chocolate consumption remains around this holiday. As many renowned European chocolatiers were introduced to Japan beginning from the 2000s, people often sent luxurious chocolates from brands such as Jean-Paul Hévin, Godiva and La Maison du Chocolat to their special someone. This year’s trend was “Wa-choco" which combined chocolate with ingredients often used in Japanese cuisines such as green tea, anko (sweet bean paste), kinako (toasted soybean flour), yuzu and sesame. The long-established Japanese confectionary brand Toraya, offered a Paris-exclusive yōkan (a thick jellied dessert) with chocolate “Yōkan au chocolat” in Japan for a limited time around Valentine’s Day.

Recently, in replacement of the obligatory giri-choco, tomo-choco where female friends exchange chocolates and ore-choco which men buy as treats for themselves have become popular. Although the uproar of the 1980s has dissipated, Valentine’s Day remains to be a special event for the shy Japanese, where one can express their gratitude and love.