Love is a language spoken all over the world. To celebrate romantic love Valentine’s Day was created for couples to exchange gifts that symbolize their love for one another. However, in other parts of the world, both love and Valentine’s Day are symbolized in a different fashion. One example of this is how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Japan.
Traditionally, women in Japan are seen as too shy to express their affections and their gushy sentiments of love. Therefore, on Valentine’s Day it is actually the women who give gifts as an annual outward symbol of their love. Each year on February 14th, Japanese women give gifts of chocolate and other gifts to their husbands and boyfriends. During this time, manufacturers increase their supply of chocolate, and Japanese stores are flooded with advertisements and displays centered around the sweet treat with many chocolate companies reporting that at least half of their annual sales are accomplished in the week preceding Valentine’s Day.
One of the things that helps boost the overall sales of chocolate at this time is the tradition of Japanese women giving chocolate to all of the other men in their lives, as well. This action is known as “giri”, meaning that it is an expression of non-romantic love. Different from what is known as honmei-chocolate or chocolate that is given to a man the woman romantically cares for, giri-chocolate and gifts are given to a woman’s male boss, her male friends, and male family members.
In Japanese culture, when a person does something nice for another, another nice gesture must be returned. Therefore, on March 14th of each year, a similar holiday, known as White Day, is celebrated. On White Day, men give gifts to the women that they received gifts from on Valentine’s Day. As you may have guessed already, these love tokens also involve chocolate.
While red is the symbolic color of love and, therefore, is a color strongly associated with Valentine’s Day. On White Day, white is the color most strongly associated with the tradition of male to female love tokens. On White Day, men often give white chocolate, and chocolate and other gifts are presented in white boxes and bags in honor of the occasion.
Some say that Valentine’s Day was created by chocolate companies and that its companion holiday, White Day, was created by a marshmallow company in as early as 1960. Others say that White Day was actually created in 1980 as a way to assuage the guilt that some men felt from receiving gifts on Valentine’s Day without giving any. Whenever or for whatever reasons they were actually created, both holidays are highly marketed in Japan and are widely celebrated throughout the country each year. It is a part of the landscape of love in Japan and, though celebrated very differently from the American tradition, it is still a very sweet, time-honored way of saying, “I love you forever”.