Valentine's Day, Japanese Style

Today is Valentine’s Day. In the States 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.

Valentine's Day, New York, EN Brasserie
©EN Brasserie

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. It’s 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 has been a boon to those who sell chocolate. Japanese chocolate companies reportedly make 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. Traditionally Japanese women aren’t forward, but Valentine’s Day gives them the opportunity to send a message to a potential boyfriend.

The men have their chance to 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.

Here in New York, Japanese restaurants are offering specials for Valentine’s Day.

  • Oms/b
    156 East 45th Street
    This restaurant specializing in omusubi (onigiri, or rice balls) is offering Valentine’s Day Special Rice Balls.
  • Kyotofu
    705 Ninth Avenue
    New York’s Japanese dessert bar and bakery is offering a three-course dessert prix fixe menu for $30 per person.
  • EN Brasserie
    435 Hudson Street
    This West Village authentic Japanese restaurant is offering a Valentine’s seven-course kaiseki meal for $115 per person.