Valentine's Day can be celebrated in many ways. Generally speaking, it is a holiday for lovers. This is true in Japan as well as in the West. In Japan, however, it is about more than just boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, or significant others and significant others. There is a place for Valentine's Day in business, in school, and in the family as well.
Morozoff is a chocolate maker based in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture that is said to have popularized the celebration of Valentine's Day in Japan, and to have contributed to the development of many of the country's traditions for the holiday.
The most important and significant thing that should be known about Japan is that on Valentine's Day, women tend to give chocolates to men. This is the tradition, but men have a chance to return the favor a month later on what is called "White Day".
A very important thing to know about Valentine's Day is that there are basically two types of chocolates a woman might give to a man. These are referred to as "honmei" and "giri" chocolates or "choco" as it is often shortened. Honmei refers to chocolate given to someone you truly care about or have romantic feelings for. This chocolate is either expensive or homemade, and is selected thoughtfully and specifically chosen for the recipient. "Giri-choco" is obligatory chocolate. This is the chocolate that studens often give to teachers or classmates, that female company employees give to their co-workers, and that family members can give to each other. Giri chocolate has the same kind of feel as the obligatory "omiyage" a company employee will bring back from a trip.
In recent years, it is more common for women to give giri chocolate to female co-workers as well without discriminating. Chocolate companies have also tried to market the idea of women treating themselves to a little honmei chocolate as well. (This is similar to some recent marketing strategies employed by jewelry makers.)
On White Day, men are expected to return the favor to women who gave them something on Valentine's Day. If he received honmei chocolate and feels the same way, White Day would be a chance to reciprocate in kind. It is good manners to receiprocate with at least a small gesture on White Day, although the reality is that Valentine's Day sees a much greater exchange of gifts.
For men in Japan, it can be a challenge to distinguish between honmei and giri chocolate, especially when wishful thinking comes along with a female friend that likes to be a little extravagant with giri chocolate. However, for the most part, it is usually pretty easy to distinguish between the two.
An added bonus if you travel in Japan during the middle of February is that lots of delicious chocolates will begin to go on sale for half-price or more during the days following Valentine's Day. It is a great chance to stock up and experience some of the high quality and unique Japanese style chocolates that exist. Even major candy makers and brands familiar to Westerners will make special Valentine versions around the holiday, putting a nice unique twist on old favorites.