The Sweet Tradition of Valentine's Chocolate in Japan

by Nana Young

Valentine's Day chocolate box

Valentine’s Day is a big deal for men and women in Japan, but not in the way you might expect. There’s a fascinating cultural twist where women are expected to give chocolate gifts to the men in their lives. This is a sharp contrast to what you might expect at Western Valentine's Day celebrations.

Also, Japanese tradition focuses on gifting chocolates on the day of love, unlike Western traditions that also encourage sharing flowers, greeting cards, or dinner dates. This has led chocolate manufacturers to provide a vast range of Valentine chocolate in Japan. You’ll find them in a variety of styles, flavors, and prices.

Let’s explore the extent to which these producers go to create truly artistic treats. After that, we’ll delve deeper into the country’s unique tradition of Japanese women giving chocolates to multiple men, not only their romantic partners.

The Art of Valentine's Chocolate in Japan: More Than Just a Sweet Treat

Homemade chocolate

Cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka have many chocolate factories where the magic happens. Some of these makers only sell craft chocolate, which has something the mass-produced ones lack: human touch.

The makers create the products from scratch, even sourcing the high-quality cacao beans themselves. They also craft each piece of chocolate by hand and focus solely on artistry rather than consistency. It takes a lot of skill to pull off, and many people consider these “bean-to-bar” treats better than mass-produced chocolates.

There’s also a great focus on flavors in Japanese handmade chocolate, with makers doing their best to achieve a unique taste for each product. You’ll find strange but exquisite flavors, such as wasabi, sesame, red beans, green tea, soy sauce, and cherry blossom.

In Japanese culture, packaging can be just as important as the gift itself. Hence, when artisanal chocolate makers finish molding, they spend a lot of time creating beautiful wraps and boxes. Some of the wrappings are so unique that you cannot find them outside the country!

The Evolution of Japanese Valentine's Day Chocolate Trends

Woman receiving chocolate from her boyfriend on Valentine's Day

How did Japanese women become the expected chocolate gifters? To answer this, we need to go all the way back to the 20th century.

The Beginning

Valentine’s Day wasn’t a thing in Japan until 1936, when the Morozoff confectionary company launched a campaign targeting foreigners. In 1953, they added the heart-shaped chocolates to their campaign, urging citizens to share them as gifts on the day. Soon, other confectionery companies in the country did the same, and the practice became popular.

A chocolate company executive made a translation error in some of the early campaigns, which led to the tradition of only women giving chocolate gifts. To this day, women are obliged to give these treats to their male romantic partners, friends, and coworkers.

White Day in Japan

Man giving woman Valentine's Day gift

Worry not if you feel it’s a little unfair that men have no obligation to give women chocolates on February 14th. In Japan, March 14th is known as White Day. On this day, men return the favor to women with white chocolate. The belief is that men should gift chocolates worth two to three times the value of what they received on Valentine’s Day. It’s also worth noting that some men give ‘gyaku choco’ or reverse chocolate on Valentine’s Day. 

There are terms in Japanese vocabulary that are reserved for the chocolate woman gift. We’ll explore these terms next.

Giri Choco: The Tradition of Obligation Chocolate

Giving giri choco to office coworker

‘Giri choco' is the chocolate given by women to their male coworkers, acquaintances, colleagues, friends, and bosses on Valentine’s Day in Japan. Because the women share no intimate feelings with most of the receivers, it’s called “obligation chocolate.” Before giving giri choco, your shopping should focus on affordability and volume.

It can be confusing and expensive to buy a box of chocolate for all the men at work. Thankfully, Bokksu Boutique offers an Assorted Chocolates Gift Box, which comes with 16 individually wrapped pieces of chocolate. It’s affordable and perfect for splitting among a large group.

But we all have special people at our workplace—people like bosses and favorite coworkers. You might want to get them something different, particularly if they have some preferences. We recommend the Matcha Chocolate-Covered Strawberry for men who prefer the mature flavor of matcha over regular chocolate despite their sweet tooth.

Honmei Choco: Expressing True Love and Affection

Woman giving chocolate to her lover

‘Honmei choco’ is the special chocolate given by women to their romantic partners or crushes on Valentine’s Day in Japan. It signifies true love and affection, which should be strongly reflected in the gift. You want to focus on high-quality, statement treats or homemade chocolate.

Bokksu Boutique offers the perfect way to express your love to your husband, boyfriend, or romantic interest with the Chocolate Treasures Gift Box. Feel free to customize it using any of the four options available and furoshiki cloth wrapping.

The Chocolate Flower Bouquet Gift is another affordable option for honmei chocolate. It contains treats and flowers, allowing you to express your love in style.

Tomo Choco: Celebrating Friendships on Valentine's Day

Young female friends sharing chocolate on Valentine's Day

Popularly tagged “friends chocolate,” ‘tomo choco’ refers to the treats exchanged between female friends. It’s a refreshing exception to the rules that govern Valentine’s Day in Japan, with a focus on female-to-female gifting. The practice is especially popular among young women and schoolgirls as a way of celebrating friendship. Some women give the same chocolate as giri choco.

If you want to try something similar, you’ll need to consider volume and variety. The Japanese Kit Kat: Variety Party Box 2023 comes with 70 chocolate pieces in 18 different flavors, making it a perfect tomo choco. We also found that women love the cute designs of the Bouquets of Chocolate Gift Set. It resembles a cluster of flowers, with beautiful rosebuds and leaves.

Luxury and Artisanal Chocolates: A Growing Trend

Man tempering chocolate

In a country where the quality of chocolate reflects a relationship’s perceived value, it’s no surprise that luxury and artisanal chocolates are the backbone of Japanese Valentine’s Day.

Brands like Meiji, Nestlé Japan, Morinaga, Lotte, and Godiva Japan have a firm hold on the general, everyday market. However, for Valentine’s Day in Japan, there’s a growing focus on boutique chocolate makers, unique flavors, and limited-edition collections. Everything, from the taste to the packaging, has to be exquisite.

Also, Japan has become more health-conscious. Gifting gluten- and egg-free chocolate is a growing trend amidst all the luxury options. Bokksu Boutique’s signature chocolates, the White Strawberry Gift Box and the Black Strawberry Gift Box, each contain 12 vegetarian pieces of chocolate with no gluten or egg. It’s everything you’d expect in a modern Valentine’s Day chocolate and more.

DIY Japanese Valentine's Day Chocolates: A Personal Touch

Woman making Valentine's Day chocolate

You don’t always have to spend money on artisanal products. You can make your own Japanese-style Valentine’s chocolate!

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Mix chocolate bars with matcha powder (use white chocolate to maximize the flavor)

  2. Melt or microwave the mixture, making sure it doesn’t burn

  3. Pour the melted chocolate into the heart-shaped mold and add sprinkles

  4. Put the mold in a refrigerator and leave it to become solid

  5. Remove the chocolate from its mold and place it on wrapping paper

  6. Carefully wrap the chocolate and decorate with ribbon

  7. Present your gift to your Valentine as homemade honmei choco or any other kind

Where to Find the Best Valentine's Chocolates From Japan

Bokksu Boutique 2024 Valentine's Collection

If you live in Japan, you can find Valentine’s chocolates easily. There are several sweets shops and department stores scattered across cities that stock all kinds of mass-produced and craft chocolate. 

Finding authentic Japanese chocolates in other countries can be just as easy if you shop at Bokksu Boutique. Feel free to check out our Valentine’s Collection before February 14th. We regularly update our stock to bring you the best Japanese Valentine’s Day chocolates each year!

Indeed, the occasion is a celebration of love and friendship, with chocolates serving as the medium of communication. We urge you to celebrate Valentine’s Day by expressing yourself and showing how much you cherish the people in your life!

Discover the sweetness of authentic Japanese chocolates with Bokksu Boutique!

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