Since the 1950s, Japanese women have showered the men in their lives with chocolatey gifts on Valentine’s Day, and all because of a tiny translation error made by a Japanese chocolate executive with a zest for Western traditions amidst post-war economic difficulties in Japan.
The Japanese Valentine’s Day Tradition explained…
When a Japanese woman wants to express sincere love for a man in her life, she’ll buy a very special chocolate gift, perhaps one in the shape of a car or a golf ball. She might even buy him a box of rich, creamy chocolates, filled with his favourite liquor.
The strange thing is that in modern-day Japan she must also buy chocolates for the men she couldn’t care less about. Cultural customs in Japan dictate that Japanese women are bound to buy chocolates for all the men that they know, even if they only choose to treat them to a standard, nothing-to-shout-about, chocolate bar on Valentine’s Day – a clear indication, in itself, of a certain lack of regard.
The giving of “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolate” plays a huge role in Japan’s Valentine’s Day traditions in the 21st century. Chocolate buying and giving is one of the most direct ways in which Japanese women can express their true feelings towards the men in their lives.
Chocolate traditions and blips in translations
Millie Creighton, a UBC professor of Anthropology, devotes part of her time to studying how the Japanese observe holidays. Her research reveals the ways in which the Japanese have incorporated the traditions and customs of Western holidays into their Eastern lives. Part of that research dates back to the 1950s when Valentine’s Day was first introduced to Japan.
Creighton’s discovery shows that an executive from a Japanese chocolate company took the idea of Valentine’s Day from Europe and convinced a number of Japanese department stores to promote the holiday as a way of improving the post-war effects on the Japanese economy. The Japanese executive in question misunderstood the traditions of Valentine’s Day in Europe and, thanks to the blip in his translation, Japan believed that chocolate-giving on Valentine’s Day was a one way affair – women sending chocolate gifts to men.
During the 1950s, Japan was keen to learn about Western traditions and to copy Western cultures. It was a country starved from “luxurious” items available in the West and so when Valentine’s Day first appeared on Japanese soil, there seemed to be no-better product than the Western sweet treat of chocolate for Japanese women to offer to the men that they loved – particularly on a day which was all about celebrating the joys of romantic love.
Modern developments and chocolate obligations
In the early years, chocolate-giving was reserved for the “special man” in the life of the Japanese female. It was treated as an act of romantic love. Since then, the tradition has developed to include “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolate” – the cultural custom which can be observed in Japan today.
Whether the giving of chocolate to all men seems strange or not, the tradition is loyally followed in Japan every year. Japanese women buy their chocolate gifts based on their feelings towards the men they are buying for and, in return, Japanese men get a very honest idea about what the women in their lives really think of them.