Foreign Perspective: Valentine’s Day Japanese Style

If you’ve ever studied abroad, then you know what it’s like to be submerged in an entirely foreign culture. But have you ever wondered what it’s like on the flip side of the experience – what it’s like for someone going abroad to America? Join columnists Amy Chilcott, of Australia, and Kasumi Hirokawa, of China, as they encounter all things American and Penn State – and tell it as they see it the way only one with a foreign perspective can.


Back when I lived in a small town in Saitama, Japan, I dreaded Valentine’s Day. I hated what was expected of me. I’d rather spend the day shoving people’s faces into chocolate-y desserts they just got from their lovers.

What about the Japanese Valentine’s Day that’s so nasty it can make an otherwise sweet little 12-year-old girl bitter? Let me tell you.

It’s all about DIY chocolates

The night before the Japanese Valentine’s Day, women and girls pull an all-nighter in the kitchen to perfect their respective chocolate-y concoctions. If you’re female and buy a box of chocolates from a store, people think you’re unlucky in winning your crush’s heart – or just plan awful.

It’s like letting your rival outperform you in the culinary catfights, ladies. Yes, it’s sort of like The Bachelor in real life…but with more chocolate.

And all about giving chocolates to men

As if women need an extra day in the kitchen cooking and baking. As if men need an extra day being served food first and showered with (sometimes unreciprocated) attention.

All men, I repeat, all men to whom you have the capacity of delivering a box of chocolates will actually get homemade chocolates from you on Valentine’s Day. That means on top of your boyfriend, your dad, uncles and granddads, you will be obligated to give your experimental batches to your male bosses, teachers, assistants, coworkers and classmates.

Honmei vs. giri

But Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when you celebrate the romance between two people, right? Well, yeah. But then enters pity. There are two types of chocolates women give: honmei (true love) and giri (obligatory).

Honmei chocolates are given to husbands, fiancés, boyfriends, soon-to-be boyfriends and thus requires some extra oomph in the cooking process and wrapping – like an extra layer of frilly pink wrapper or making sure you wrote “I [heart] you” on top where he can see it.

Giri chocolates are usually the surplus or misshapen ones that were disqualified from joining the prestigious honmei gift box. They are given to female friends and other male casual friends you don’t have romantic feelings for.

Spin-off holidays that don’t make sense at all

I think some candy company got enough complaints that women need a day of eating candy and having flowers delivered as a thank you that it decided to invent another lovey-dovey holiday, called White Day, on March 14.

It’s a day when the man who got chocolates return the favor to the woman by buying her a box of white chocolates or candy. Cooking-induced all-nighters are optional here (hello, gender double standards!). But with the way Japanese elementary school calendars works and the immaturity of all parties involved, no one actually did anything on White Day.

If the couple’s feelings for each other are mutual, they would go on a date on Orange Day, which is exactly one month after White Day. The singles and the heartbroken usually don’t participate in either of those days.

Whether your chocolate is white, milk or dark, enjoy it. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photo by Ziyan Sha

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