Before I moved to US, I didn't know that Valentine's Day is also for women too.
In the US, Valentine's Day celebrations are generally geared towards couples, with a slight bias towards women when it comes to the marketing of chocolates, flowers and other gifts---a bias that is meant to have women encourage men to buy gifts for them. In Japan, things are a little different. The Japanese celebrate St. Valentine's day in a rather unique fashion---Women give men gifts of chocolate as well as other gifts. The chocolates and other Valentine's Day items are marketed towards women, but they're marketed for them to buy and give to men, rather than the other way around.
From mid January, grocery stores, department stores, and convenience stores start selling many different kinds of domestic and imported chocolate. More than half of the chocolate sold in a year is sold around Valentine's Day in Japan. Women buy chocolate for their co-workers, bosses, male friends, brothers, father, husband, boyfriends, and so on. These gifts of chocolate are divided into two types: giri-choco (義理チョコ, obligatory chocolate) and honmei-choco (本命チョコ, chocolate for the man the woman is serious about). Giri-choco (義理チョコ) is given by women to their superiors at work as well as to other male co-workers. Many men feel embarrassed if they don't receive any chocolate on Valentine's Day. Women usually make sure to give giri-choco to men around them so that they don't feel left out. That's why it is not unusual for a woman to buy 20 to 30 boxes of this type of chocolate for distribution around the office as well as to men that she has regular contact with. The average price range for a giri-choco (義理チョコ) is from 200 yen to 500 yen each.
Women tend to give special gifts, such as neckties and clothes with an expensive box of honmei-choco (本命チョコ) to her special someone. Honmei-choco (本命チョコ) is more expensive than giri-choco and is sometimes homemade. It's considered lucky if a man could receive a honmei-choco (本命チョコ).
While all of this may seem quite one-sided, confectioners in Japan - never ones to miss an opportunity to sell more - took advantage of the Japanese feelings of obligation and created White Day in 1980 to help assuage the guilt feelings of those poor obligated males who received chocolate on Valentine's Day. On March 14th, exactly one month after Valentine's Day, men who were lucky enough to receive gifts of chocolate have the chance to return the favor by giving the women who gave them gifts of chocolate a more expensive box of chocolate or sweets (for some reason, these return gifts seem to be priced slightly higher than those the women purchase). The stores provide plenty of reminders of the approach of this day so that even the most forgetful man cannot say that it slipped his mind. The gifts of chocolate that men buy are in white boxes (after all, it is White Day) and come with separate shopping bags to put them in.
In recent years, many Japanese young women exchange chocolate gifts with their female friends. These chocolates are called tomo choko (友チョコ friend chocolate).
I am glad that I don't have to do this giri-choco (義理チョコ) thing any more. I wasn't good at it and didn't enjoy it at all. Especially I was working for a company with about 100 male co-workers! Imaging that! Of course I didn't buy Giri-choco (義理チョコ) for all of them. In fact, I ususally skipped that day....
Now I just need to get one honmei-choco (本命チョコ) for my lovely husband, and I enjoy it!
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!