Posted by achimrunnebaum on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 (Japan Standard Time)

Valentine's Day Japanese Style

Your guide to celebrating this special day in Japan

It's that time of year again…. That time when the dread of Winter gets replaced with looking forward to the rebirth of Spring, when everything becomes new again.  New jobs, new friendships, and for many people new loves. At this time of year, many people try to find new love, or try to express their loving feelings for their spouses, partners, close friends, or family.  

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It's that sweetest of times when Florists and Chocolatiers are preparing for the onslaught of customers, all frantically trying to find that one perfect present for their loved ones, friends, and family.   It's that time of year when the price of chocolate and jewelry skyrocket into the stratosphere for just one memorable day. A day when Cupid works overtime to help people find love, fill their hearts with joy, and their refridgerators with chocolate. 
I'm talking, of course, about Valentine's Day, the yearly lollapalooza of everything lovey - dovey, which is in full swing all over the world… even in the often-times love-reserved Japan.  Here, it is celebrated rather differently, however.

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If you're a guy reading this, and you happen to be in Japan for Valentine's day, there are some crucial things you need to do before the big day comes.  
Step 1, empty out at least one, if not two full shelves in your refrigerator (+1 for every year spent in Japan).  
Step 2, always carry a larger backpack with you around the 14th.  

Why is this necessary?  Because in Japan it is only the women who give men something.  That something is usually chocolate, and if you live and/or work in Japan and have many Japanese friends, you will receive a lot of it.  

Don't get too excited when you get chocolate from many different women on this day, however.  It doesn't necessarily mean they're all interested in you.  Just like in real-life, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is; so if a woman you barely talk to, all of a sudden gives you chocolate, it could mean you're the recipient of "Giri-Choco", or obligation chocolate.  This is given to men such as co-workers, male friends, bosses, etc. It has nothing at all to do with attraction.  It's just a sign of gratitude or friendship.  Sorry, guys!  This is of course in stark contrast to the way it's usually celebrated overseas where in most cases chocolate or sweet gifts are given mainly to love interests or family and close friends.  Also of note is that Valentine's cards are generally not given in Japan.  It's all about the chocolate!  :D  If there is a special woman in your life, however; don't worry!  She'll find a way to let you know that her chocolate/gift is special and really does come from the heart. 

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If you're a woman reading this, RUN!!! - don't walk to the nearest chocolate shop, department store, or convenience store, because chocolate is selling out faster than glow sticks and greenish-blue hairspray at a Hatsune Miku concert.  

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At this point, you might be thinking that Valentine's Day in Japan seems rather one-sided.  Don't worry, women are not left out of the game. They get their own special chocolate/sweets/jewelry giving day.  It's called White Day, and only exists in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Keep your eyes peeled on this page for more information about this truly unique Asian custom; coming up soon!

While its nice being pulled away from your regular life and swept into a chocolate-filled amorous dreamland, there is an actual historical significance to Valentine's Day (History).  Not too many people know about the actual history, or meaning of this day, however, so with a camera in one hand and an iphone (for recording) in the other, I set out to find out what this day means to everyday people here in Japan.  

Here's what they had to say:

1. "It always makes me confused, since there are so many choices of chocolates in department stores" -said one young woman shopping for some sweet gifts to give to friends and co-workers.
2. "It means heaven or hell" -said one Japanese man, referring to if you're in a relationship, or alone for the day. 
3. "It's about thanking friends and family, and also sometimes treating yoursel (by buying yourself chocolate)" -said a young Japanese girl who has experience living overseas. 
4. "For me it was just about going through the motions (of just giving out chocolate) until I met him" -said one young Japanese woman whose boyfriend is from Europe.  "He gave me flowers today, so I'm very happy", she continued. 

So there you have it!  Valentine's Day Japanese style! 

Different? - totally!

Unique? - definitely!

Worth experiencing? - absolutely! 

Thanks and hope you all had a great Valentine's Day! 

Keep your eyes peeled on this page for more information about next months White Day celebration; coming up soon!

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Achim Runnebaum
Freelance Photographer, Writer, and Journalist. Achim was born in Germany, raised in the States, and is currently living in Japan.
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