Roses are red, violets are blue, in Japan, Valentine's Day is not the same for me and you

Valentine's Day chocolate sold at a department store in Japan. Photo by  lazy fri13th  / Creative Commons

Valentine's Day chocolate sold at a department store in Japan. Photo by lazy fri13th / Creative Commons


Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday. But this romantic holiday is celebrated differently in Japan: it is a day when women give chocolates to their crush.

Valentine's is a day of excitement, when boys worry about how much chocolate they’ll get, and girls fret if their love will be accepted.

It’s a unique story of how this Japanese twist on a Western tradition started.

Among several views about who introduced Valentine’s Day to Japan, the most popular one is Kunio Hara, the second-generation president of Mary Chocolate Company. In 1958, when he was a student, he heard about Valentine’s Day in Paris and suggested to his father to start a Valentine’s Day promotion. With his father’s permission, he sold chocolates at a department store in Tokyo between February 12th to 14th, in 1958. At the end of the sales, he sold only 3 plates of chocolates and one message card, and the total sales were only 170 yen (about $1.50).

With a new idea, Hara managed to make the Valentine’s Day promotion a success when he began selling heart shaped chocolate with the name of the recipient on the top. In addition, he made the sales slogan "Once a year, give a confession of love from a woman to a man!”

His idea was embraced in 1950s Japan, where society was male dominated and women had difficulty taking the initiative in dating. This Valentine's Day tradition is still widely practiced in Japan today.

Still though, Valentine’s Day was not widely adopted in Japan until the 1970s. The holiday grew in popularity among young students in schools.  Since then, Japanese Valentine’s Day culture has evolved in its own unique way.

With women handing gifts to men in Japan on Valentine's Day,  a day for women to receive gifts by men was created. That holiday is called “White Day”, and is on March 14th, one month after Valentine’s Day. Popular presents for "White Day" are cookies, accessories, flowers and so on.

Valentine’s Day celebrations continue to change to this day, too. Read here to learn more.