The Obligatory Chocolate of Japanese Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day! It’s the day when men feel obligated to buy flowers, candy, jewelry, and cards for the women in their lives. But Valentine’s Day has a different meaning to the Japanese. In Japan, women are the gift givers.

Standard procedure in Japan is for women to buy chocolate for men. The Japanese refer to these goodies as giri choco. Giri is Japanese slang for “obligatory,” and Japanese society is big on obligation. The giving of giri choco is not considered a romantic gesture by women; it’s merely a way of thanking their male co-workers and friends for their help during the year, thereby fulfilling their obligation to them.


This practice was a boon to those who sell chocolate. In the past, Japanese chocolate companies reportedly made more than half of their yearly profits during the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. As in the States, the variety and price range of chocolate is vast. The closer the relationship, the more Japanese women spend on chocolate.

That’s not to say that Japanese women give chocolate only to men with whom they have business or casual relationships. They give honmei choco to their true loves or crushes. (Honmei means “true feelings” or “favorite.”)

Tradition on the Decline

This entire tradition has been trending down in recent years, however. The worldwide #MeToo movement compelled Japanese office workers to examine the practice. A 2019 survey reported that almost 40 percent of Japanese office workers—female and male—consider giri choco as harassment. Women feel pressure and spend a large chunk of their February budget to purchase chocolate for everyone man in the office; it’s stressful to leave someone out accidentally. For the men who receive the chocolate, they must reciprocate on March 14, called “White Day” in Japan. On this day, men who received honmei choco or giri choco return the favor, at two to three times the cost of their Valentine’s Day gift. As a result, many companies have banned giri choco altogether.

Since we work remotely now, the giri choco culture has disappeared.”
— Tomoko Ota in Nikkei Asia

This isn’t the only reason for the decline of this quirky Japanese tradition. Another reason is the pandemic.

“With more people out of the office in favor of teleworking and rising sanitary practices, an increasing number of women are forgoing the custom,” writes Jada Nagumo in Nikkei Asia. This is a relief to one of the women Nagumo interviewed.

“’It has been a lot easier since the pandemic because I don’t have to worry about what to prepare anymore,’ said 38-year-old Tomoko Ota, an office worker in Tokyo. In the past, Ota said that all the female workers in her office would purchase chocolates and other sweets to give to their male co-workers as presents. ‘Since we work remotely now, the giri choco culture has disappeared.’”

Japanese Cats x Valentine’s Day

At least Japanese cats are still having fun this Valentine’s Day.

Japanese Instagram user @nabesentochiro has four cats who are cooking up some lovin’.

Instagram: @nabesentochiro


The chonky babes of @coco_nyanco2 sent a Valentine’s Day kiss.

Instagram: @coco_nyanco2


And @rinne172, the cats who teach me everything I know about Japanese holidays and observances, shared a sweet moment.

Instagram: @rinne172


I hope you’re having many sweet moments, too, whether you have chocolate with a Valentine, a Galentine, or a Palentine.

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