St. Valentine's Day is extremely popular in Japan. February 14 is celebrated as a day when girls are allowed to express their love to boys by presenting them with chocolate, as a symbol of their love. Many Japanese, and in particular the young people, who are especially passionate about the event, don't really know what St. Valentine's day means for Europeans or Americans, or, needless to say, what the Roman origin of the day is. Some people are aware that they celebrate St. Valentine's Day differently from Westerners, but they don't really care. A few people feel unhappy that they are being manipulated by the smart advertisements of chocolate companies.

Yes, it is true that St. Valentine's Day was introduced to Japan by chocolate companies. It seems that the first company which tried to persuade the Japanese to give presents of chocolate on St. Valentine's Day was Morozoff, a Kobe based confectioner. Morozoff's first trial was made in 1936, but it was too premature for the Japanese to pay any attention to the Western tradition. Morozoff tried again after the WWII in 1952, but failed again to gain the support of the Japanese. Then another chocolate company, Mary's Chocolate Company in Tokyo, tried its luck in 1958. In 1960, Morinaga, a confectionery giant started a "chocolate for St. Valentine's Day" campaign and this event gradually penetrated society.

In the 1960s, it was still not very popular to give chocolate on St. Valentine's Day. Girls who wanted to express their love needed a lot of courage. But, they were encouraged by chocolate companies. The mass media advertised this new trend very actively and encouraged young girls to buy chocolate. Then, in the 1970s, large confectioners joined the St. Valentine Day's chocolate market. Homemade chocolate also became fashionable, and chocolate companies opened courses for chocolate making. St. Valentine's Day became a special event for young lovers.

Unfortunately, I was not in Japan in the period when St. Valentine's Day was at its peak. I was in Germany when I first learned about St. Valentine's Day as the day when lovers express their love for each other by exchanging cards.

However, when I came back to Japan at the end of the 1970s, St. Valentine's Day was, among others, the day when girls or office ladies presented chocolate to their male colleagues. The so called "giri choco" became the most popular type of St. Valentine's Day chocolate. "Giri" is an old word for the main philosophy of the yakuza (or gangster) world, which means duty or obligation. Women working in offices feel obliged to assure their bosses and colleagues that they are well liked, and they do this by giving them a present of "giri" chocolate. On the other hand, once you have received a present of "giri" chocolate, you have to reward the girl or lady with something even more valuable..... Maybe by inviting her to a luxury dinner in a trendy French restaurant. There is a dilemma. You want to receive more chocolate to prove that you are loved and popular. However, the more chocolate you receive, the more you have to spend on buying back presents for the girls.

Chocolate companies have introduced another trick, namely "White Day" where they try to exploit the naive feelings of men. White Day was the perfect invention by Japanese chocolate companies to take money from men's purses. Men were told that they had to reciprocate women's gifts by giving them a gift of white chocolate on March 14, a month later than St. Valentine's Day. Men were not very happy with this idea, but they were being pressured by women into giving them a more precious gift, as I told you before.

Men start to get irritated as St. Valentine's Day approaches, because they know that they will feel very awkward if they don't get any chocolate, as this will indicate that they are not worth even being given "giri" chocolate. However, if they do receive chocolate, they will have to endure another suffering.

Recently, maybe because of the sluggish economy, giving St. Valentine's Day chocolate has become less popular. And there is a problem with "giri" chocolate. As it became more popular to give "giri" chocolate, the difference between "giri" and "honmei" or true love chocolate was clear. On average, girls pay 500 yen for "giri" and 2,000 yen for "honmei". However, if you have to buy 20 "giri"s, it costs nearly $100. So, as a result girls are buying less "giri" chocolates. On the other hand, for their real sweethearts, they are starting to buy something different.

So, I don't know how long this Valentine's tradition is going to last. Therefore, I would like to congratulate you, if you received chocolate on St. Valentine's Day, even though it was just "giri" chocolate ;-)

By the way, the chocolates on this page are what I received this year. Do you think they are "giri" or something else?