Japan’s Take On: Valentine’s Day

Today is the day restaurants will be packed with loving couples that can’t cook for themselves, or prefer not to, leaving the heat on in other areas of their house. It may be a “manufactured, Hallmark holiday” as many critics will contest, but it’s a standard holiday for those in love in America. Your restaurant should be packed tonight, but things aren’t the same everywhere.

In Japan, things are a bit different. On our side of the globe, couples give each other gifts, kids get their whole class stuff, and those practicing Single Awareness Day surf the Internet looking at cat pictures. In that island nation, Valentine’s Day comes in two parts, with the first coming today.

On February 14th, custom tends to be that women employed in offices (colloquially known as “office ladies”) give their male coworkers chocolate, and many younger people will take this opportunity to profess their love or crush on a male student. The better the chocolate (homemade being the best, followed by quality store-bought), the better the romantic or friendship interest. The cheaper and lower quality chocolate remains for people you don’t share much of an interest in, but don’t want them to be left out. This chocolate is known as “giri choco” (courtesy chocolate) or “honmei choco” (love chocolate).

One month later, on March 14th, men return the favor. If they don’t return any sort of gift, it’s perceived as “being above”, unfairly. If they return in equal kind or amount, it’s seen as a curt way to cut ties. Men are expected to double or triple the quality or quantity of the gift in a romantic relationship. This day, known as “White Day,” returns the favor. There’s a much more crass version of this day in America starting with “Steak”, but we won’t cover that here. Common items to be given in return on White Day are white color, such as white chocolate, marshmallows, or even white lingerie. Notably, March 14th is also known as “Pi Day,” so if you can figure out a white pie, you’re set for two holidays.

To round out Valentine’s Day and White Day, there’s a particular South Korean tradition one month after White Day. On April 14th, it’s time for men who didn’t receive or give any gifts on the previous two days to meet up and eat jajangmyeon, a dish of white noodles in black sauce.

What do you think of how Japan handles the holiday? Would you be able to do the math and figure out how much chocolate you should get your loved one? As a restaurant, how can you take inspiration from this foreign tradition? If anything, you might want to look into buying some white noodles and black sauce for those unlucky.