Dean Owen

4 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Peculiar Customs of Weird and Wonderful Japan

Peculiar Customs of Weird and Wonderful Japan

Yes it is March 14th, which means that chocolate sales in Japan are going through the roof, because today is White Day.

No, this isn't some holiday celebrating Dugout Doug’s (MacArthur) arrival in Japan at the end of WWII. White Day is in fact a follow-on holiday from the widely popular Valentine’s Day.

You see, Western customs are big business in Japan, a country that maintains a “Special Relationship” with the US (a phrase coined by Sir Winston Churchill to describe Anglo-American relations).

One would think that the Japanese bear a grudge against America for dumping Fat Man and Little Boy on two very populous cities. But despite the bombs and the Allied occupation of Japan, many Japanese are grateful for the assistance in rebuilding and technology sharing offered by the US in the years following. There will always be some that will never forgive and forget, but on the whole, it is surprising and rather uncommon to see a friendship and deep level of admiration between two enemy nations blossom in such a short time period.

Many younger Japanese have pretty much blocked out the dark period in the history of Japan that was WWII, preferring to live in the current - looking forward, and not back. Hollywood and American youth culture no doubt cemented the fondness for Western culture as young teens idolised the likes of James Dean and Audrey Hepburn.

Christmas was already popular in Japan, being brought to their shores by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in the 16th Century. As with many nations, commercialism grabbed Christmas by the throat, but traditional Christmas practices took a rather different turn there, more akin to Valentine’s Day.

Christmas Eve is by far the biggest day in the dating calendar for young couples.

It is the most popular date in the calendar year to lose one’s virginity.

There is also a rather disdainful expression in Japanese for women who have not married by the age of 25 (Christmas Day), commonly referred to as a “Christmas Cake” (past the expiry date).

Valentine’s Day in Japan also evolved in its own uniquely Japanese way as a day when girls give gifts of chocolate or candy to guys (and not vice versa).

It’s history dates back to 1936 when a Kobe based confectionary and cake company called Morozoff Ltd ran an advertisement aimed at the foreign community promoting heart shaped chocolates as a gift to celebrate Saint Valentine’s.

As the tradition caught on, for some reason it became a purely girl thing with girls giving two types of chocolate to guys. 

The first is “honmei-choco” ("real-feelings" chocolate), given to guys they are in love with or have a crush on. 

The second is “giri-choco” (“duty" chocolate), given to male co-workers and bosses to appease them. 

This can obviously lead to confusion at the workplace when a guy gets the chocolate and mistakes feelings of duty bound gifts for amorous affection. To further add to the confusion, a third type of chocolate gift soon began to appear, the “tomo-choco” (“friend chocolate”) for friends.


White Day was an initiative launched by the National Confectionary Industry Association back in 1978 as an opportunity for men to reciprocate (usually with white chocolate) for the chocolates they received on Valentine’s Day. Apparently the color white was chosen to indicate purity but we assume that this also worked well with Japanese women who view white chocolate as more delicate and perhaps mellower in flavour. 

And believe it or not, White Day is slowly gaining in popularity amongst Japan’s neighbors, Taiwan and Korea.

To understand the complexity behind Valentine and White Day gift giving, watch these two delightful girls fumble a lengthy explanation.

Confused? Yep, me too.

Although it is highly unlikely that this commercialism born practice will cross over to Western culture anytime soon, give a thought today to those confused Japanese men still trying to figure out the meaning of the chocolate they got last month.

This article was first published on LinkedIn on 14th March, 2016.

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Randall Burns

4 years ago #18

Interesting piece, were those "Blondes" in the video?

nice informative piece. Thank you.

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #16

Planned and prepped but not yet packed.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #15

Me thinks the Japanese love to embrace all cultures. I seriously can't wait to read about your trip. All planned?

Dean Owen

4 years ago #14

I first went in the 80's, then moved there in the early 90's. Hope you visit again soon! Quite a bit has changed.

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #13

Confirms my decision, many years ago, Dean-san, to boycott Valentine's Day as a commercial fabrication. Interesting how this White Day celebration appears to add to the Japanese paradox of holding onto strong traditions yet being drawn to the weaknesses of western commercial exploitation. ..... or has Japanese industry turned this very much to its advantage? Thanks for opening another window on this fascinating society. Only 31 more days before I get a chance to look first hand, but who's counting?

Now that's a funny and interesting post, @Dean Owen! My daughter lived in Japan for a year back in the late'80s, and I had the chance to fly over and spend two weeks with her there. Fascinating country!

Javier 🐝 CR

4 years ago #11

thanks Dean Owen for sharing this amazing buzz with us !!! I HAVE TO FLY TO JAPAN... OMG... so many places still to visit !!!

Dean Owen

4 years ago #10

I guess the Japanese truly embrace "when in Rome", but they have been known to carry around a bottle of soy sauce!

Paul Walters

4 years ago #9

Dean Owen Its great

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #8

Never been in Japan but worked for Sony for bets part of 8 years and I came across a lot of japonese staff, what did strike me was their ability to embrace local customs with enthusiasm, one of my CEOs was absolutely mad about Moroccan Couscous and he would rally the troops every friday lunch time for a 2 hour lunch..... Now after a while I think I would have preferred chocolate, another good one from Dean Owen :-)

Dean Owen

4 years ago #7

Remind me to put up warning posters in Universities around Tokyo!

Dean Owen

4 years ago #6

Yes, and there is a Scorcese movie out about 17th Century missionaries to Japan, "Silence" that I am dying to see. Not sure I'll learn anything from it apart from the fact that Japan tried to wipe out Catholicism.

Paul Walters

4 years ago #5

Dean Owen I might tie in my next visit to be on Christmas eve !!!

Gert Scholtz

4 years ago #4

Dean Owen An interesting review of Japanese Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Who would have thought that Christmas was brought to Japan in the 16th century? And Valentine’s day, what better than to give chocolate – the "real feelings" or the "duty" version. I always enjoy your insights from the east – thanks Dean.

Dean Owen

4 years ago #3

It is insane. On Valentine's Day as a guy in an office full of office ladies (OL), you get loads of chocolate, mostly giri, but who knows. On White Day you give back to just one girl, so you get a month to think about it.....

Dean Owen

4 years ago #2

Yep, been a bit busy this last month...

Devesh 🐝 Bhatt

4 years ago #1

Nice. I was of sort of wondering about your next buzz.

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