Matters of the heart are never simple -
For a western male living in Japan, thanks to the concept of "giri choco," his first valentines day will be as exhilarating as it will be confusing. For the western female, it will be an exercise in esoteric Japanese etiquette and a potentially expensive one at that. Don’t know what giri choco are? Welcome to Valentine’s Day in Japan!
Like the Ehomaki sushi rolls of Setsubun, Japan’s adoption of Valentine’s Day and giving chocolate has everything to do with business and making a profit. On February 12th 1936 the Kobe based Morozoff Chocolate and Confections Company published an advertisement in the English language “The Japan Advertiser” that promoted women, “Sending chocolate to their Valentine.” This ad proliferated the idea that Valentine’s Day was about women giving chocolate to their husbands or boyfriends.
In the 1950s and 1960s this idea was capitalized upon by the Fujiya and Morinaga Confectionary Companies as well as by Isetan, Seibu, Matsuzakaya and a few other department store companies as a way to boost their sales.
To help grow chocolate sales further, the ideas of “giri choco” or obligatory chocolate (an inexpensive variety to be given to male co-workers and friends that women had no romantic attachment to), and “honmei choco,” or love chocolate (a higher quality product to be given to husbands, boyfriends or someone of romantic interest) were marketed.
As the Japanese economy exploded in the 1970s sales of chocolate grew. Valentine’s Day accounts for 20% of all chocolate sales in Japan with women spending an average upwards of 3,000 on chocolate, giving to 10 or more people. On March 14th 1977, the Ishimurasanseido Confectionary Company in Fukuoka marketed marshmallows to men under a marketing campaign dubbed, “Marshmallow Day.” The following year, the Japan National Confections Industry Association ran a “White Day” marketing campaign as an answer to Valentine’s Day. The idea was that women should get something back from men for their generosity on Valentine’s Day.
The first White Day was officially observed in 1980. Better for women still, under the social concept of “sanbaigaeshi,” triple payback, men could be expected to reciprocate with a present 3 times the value of what they received! White chocolate was initially the most popular gift but, depending on the type of chocolate a man received, dark chocolate, white lingerie, watches and other jewelry also became popular “Valentine’s Day answers.” Still fancy your chances this valentines day?