LIVING IN JAPAN
Valentine’s Day in Japan
Growing up in the US, I enjoyed Valentine’s Day parties in our classrooms at elementary school. Each child gave every other child a very inexpensive little card, and we all ate heart-shaped sweets.
Television showed images of men giving flowers and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates to their sweethearts.
Good ole Valentine’s Day.
Then I moved to Japan.
History of Valentine’s Day in Japan
In 1936, the founder of the Kobe-based Morozoff chocolate company heard about Valentine’s Day from an American friend. He took out an ad in the country’s English language newspaper, The Japan Advertiser — “Let’s give chocolate to our sweethearts for Valentine’s Day.” This caused a spark of interest but met with minimal success. The ad had only targeted English speakers, and the drums of war were already beating in Japan. People were not in the mood.
Fast forward 20 long and difficult years.
In 1958, another chocolate maker, Mary’s, held a Valentine’s Day sale at the Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. In contrast to the Western tradition of men giving gifts to women, Japanese advertisements urged women to use this one day a year to confess their true feelings to the man they loved.
The economy was starting to boom. People were becoming interested in Western customs. The fire was lit.
In 1965, the first Valentine’s Day Fair was held at Isetan. From then on, Valentine’s Day sales spread to other department stores and shops. With women as the target, the chocolates became increasingly fancier and cuter.
Obligatory vs True Love Chocolates
The first chocolates given came to be known as honmei-choko, “true love chocolates.” But by the 1980s, the popularity of Valentine’s Day had increased to include chocolate given to co-workers or even classmates — if the teachers didn’t catch the students, that is.