Valentine’s Day in Japan


Lovely Valentine’s Day treats (all photos taken by Joanna Tocher)

by Joanna Tocher

I know, I know, Valentine’s Day is silly. It’s a card company invention. It’s selling us the false notion that love is all about hearts and flowers and teddy bears carrying pillows shaped like hearts. But just because it’s silly, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun…
Of course, Valentine’s Day is a big thing in lots of different countries, including the UK where I’m from. Come February and the shops are full of red and pink, hearts, cards, balloons, and bears with pillows. Japan’s shops have also enthusiastically embraced Valentine’s Day, It’s just that in Japan the whole holiday really does seem even crazier.
The big difference here is that on Feb 14th girls give presents to boys, and on March 14th, White Day, boys (if they’re nice boys) give gifts back to the girls they recieved a present from. There is a growing trend of girls giving gifts to their friends rather than to the objects of their affections, but that’s still the general idea. That’s not even mentioniong the lovely obligatory gifts, which are basically gifts women give their male coworkers or superiors out of a sense of obligation. How lovely. Obligation chocolates. Courtesy truffles. Yum.

Some potential “obligation chocolates”

Making your own gifts is very popular and most Valentine’s Day display areas in Japanese department stores are divided between boxed chocolates and equipment for making your own chocolates and cookies. They have everything; chocolate (in various colours and flavours), utensils, paper cases, sprinkles, decorations, boxes, labels, ribbons, bags, and bows. Everything. There are entire magazines and books dedicated to whipping up perfect Valentine’s Day treats. It may all seem designed to make anyone with less than stellar sweet-making skills feel terribly inadequate, but being clumsy is no excuse. “Here,” whisper the shops, “check out the racks of cake, cookie, and chocolate kits! No skill required!”
My own personal favourite is the cartoon goods section. Hello Kitty is always a strong presence. This year one department store stocked a great array of Sanrio tins featuring different characters, including older ones like Marron Cream and the adorable Tuxedo Sam. For the boys there are chocolate footballs, Thomas the Tank Engine, Ultraman, and One Piece goods. So romantic!

The boxed chocolate section tends to be a little more sedate, featuring a classy array of often quite pricey chocolates usually available in small, medium, and large sizes. The oddest thing I’ve come across in one of these sections this year has been a delightful chocolate…crocodile. Not a cute one, might I add, but a properly detailed one that looks like a wood carving. Much as I was tempted to buy it (or one of his friends, the chocolate hippo and the chocolate turtle), I just couldn’t really imagine eating something that detailed. It almost seemed a waste and besides, would my brain trick me into thinking it tasted somehow…scaly? Zoological treats may be romantic only to a specific few.

Despite the slight pressure to make the most beautiful treats, Valentine’s Day in Japan really does seem a lot more fun than Valentine’s Day back home in the UK. There’s a little less fixation on the colours pink and red, fewer teddy bears, and a much larger variety of things to buy. Yes, it’s all a big cynical marketing ploy, of course. After all, if the chocolate companies cover everyone’s tastes then there’s no excuse not to buy something, but it’s still a lot of fun to look at. If only I could limit myself to just looking, rather than buying myself things, the moment they start appearing in the shops.

For the soul mate with a love for astronomy…?

So, even if you missed your chance this year, go all out next year and try to make some chocolates or truffles or cookies and wrap them up in the craziest, most beribbonedbox you can find! Or failing that, go with a chocolate crocodile. It’ll be interesting at least!


  1. Interesting article, Joanna! I had no idea be-ribbon was a word. I’d love to hear a follow up article for White Day–you could ask a few men and women what they think about it, discover its origins, etc.

  2. Thanks Dan! I think it’s a word?! It is in my head at any rate… I’ll have to check now hahaha. Ooh, great idea about a White Day article, I think I’ll try to do that actually!

  3. just about to celebrate my first valentine’s day here in japan – i think i will go all out with chocolates and decorate candies for my male friends. that would prove to be rather amusing! haha

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